Chinese hospital ship visits Maldives on ‘Mission Harmony’ tour

The Chinese government’s hospital ship, ‘Peace Ark’, is visiting the Maldives as part of its eight nation ‘Mission Harmony’ tour.

The vessel is the world’s largest dedicated hospital ship with 300 beds and eight operating theatres.

Doctors from the ship will work on eight islands across the country in addition to Male, including Guraidhoo, Rasdhoo (Alif Alif Atoll), Mahibadhoo (Alif Dhaalu), Kulhudhuffushi (Haa Dhaalu ), Fuvahmulah (Gnaviyani Atoll), Eydhafushi (Baa Atoll) Villingili (Gaafu Alifu Atoll) and Addu City in the south.

The vessel’s medical team will also conduct training of local health care workers, as well as attend local orphanages and nursing homes.

Indian media have reacted warily to the presence of the vessel, noting that this was the first Chinese interest in the Maldivian healthcare sector that has been dominated by India.

Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH), the troubled state-owned hospital in Male, was donated to the Maldives by the Indian government.

“The Maldives National Defence Force stated that China’s ‘Peace Ark’ will provide better medical facilities than IGMH. Ironically, it will be at IGMH that the Chinese Army’s medical staff will be treating patients,” reported the Indian Express.


Aasandha director claims service not suspended in India’s Amrita hospital

The Amrita Institute of Technology Hospital in Kochi, India has not suspended Aasandha health care services despite reports in local media to the contrary, the scheme’s managing director has stated.

Local media reported yesterday (January 28) that services offered under the universal health care scheme Aasandha had been suspended due to unpaid bills for treatment provided to Maldivians by Amrita hospital.

However, Aasandha Managing Director Mohamed Niyaz told Minivan News today that services had not been suspended.  Niyaz said that Aasandha was instead having to control patient admittance to keep in line with the credit limit recently imposed by the hospital.

“Because of the large number of patients who went to receive treatment at the hospital in December last year and delays in paying those bills, Amrita hospital put a credit limit on the treatment they can offer that is paid for by Aasandha,” he explained.

“We are now controlling the number of patients we are admitting to the hospital in order for Aasandha to not go over the imposed credit limit,” Niyaz said.

An official from Amrita hospital told Minivan News that while it is still treating patients who are covered by Aasandha, there had been a period of four days earlier this month where it stopped admitting patients due to unpaid bills.

“There is a total of 7 million rupees (US$ 130,536) outstanding in payment to be made by Aasandha through Hospital Professional Liability (HPL) insurance, who we deal with.

“We ceased treating outpatients covered by Aasandha for four days, but HPL then paid part of the bill and so we resumed our services,” the hospital official told Minivan News.

The credit cap imposed on Aasandha by Amrita hospital was introduced to match a similar credit cap applied to all other health insurance companies who work with the hospital, the hospital official said.

“Originally we had a special agreement with Aasandha whereby they had no credit cap on the treatment we could provide. However our Financial Controller has now introduced it because it is the same as other insurance companies we deal with,” the hospital official added.

“Even now Aasandha’s credit cap is a lot higher than the other insurance companies. We have a great relationship with the Maldives and we treat our Maldivian patients as our own.”

According to Niyaz, patient treatment is currently being prioritised on a case-by-case basis in order for the service they are receiving to not be “compromised”.

In regard to bill payment, Niyaz claimed there had been a number of factors as to why the money had not been paid to Amrita hospital.

“It takes two to four weeks for the treatment bills to come through after a patient has been discharged from the hospital and then we have to pay for the treatment in US dollars,” he said.

“It takes a further two weeks for us to secure the dollars as we have to buy at a bank rate. We are trying to find ways to work around this problem at the moment.”

During December – a “peak” period for Maldivians wishing to seek medical treatment -Niyaz said there had been some issues receiving money from the Finance Ministry in order to pay the bills.

Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

Niyaz revealed that Aasandha had experienced similar issues at a hospital in Colombo and three other hospitals in India, but that these have all been resolved.

Free health care of up to MVR 100,000 (US$ 6,476) was initially available to citizens under Aasandha. Changes to the system were made by the government in August last year, after concerns the scheme would run out of money.


MNDF military hospital to provide medical services to immigration department

The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) military hospital is to begin to provide medical services to employees of the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

Defence Minister Colonel Mohamed Nazim was quoted in local media as saying that all services of the military hospital are now available under Aasandha to the employees of the immigration department.

“Employees of Immigration Department and their families can obtain medical treatment under Aasandha from the military hospital. This includes their husbands and wives. We are trying to provide the best medical services to our employees,” he told Sun Online.

The Department of Immigration and Emigration was recently transferred from the under the Ministry of Home Affairs to the Ministry of Defence.

According to the President’s Office, the decision to transfer the department was taken to make administration of the country’s immigration system more efficient.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) last week questioned the legality of the decision to transfer control of the Department of Immigration and Emigration to the Defence Ministry.


Styrofoam incubator “an alternative method”, says atoll hospital

Manager of Noonu Atoll hospital Mohamed Najeeb has said that carrying a baby inside a styrofoam box in certain circumstances was not a big issue, and had been used in the previous years as an alternative method to transfer babies in critical conditions when an incubator was unavailable.

Last week some doctors criticised Noonu Atoll Hospital after doctors at the hospital transferred a newborn baby in a critical medical condition to Male’ inside a styrofoam box, because the hospital did not have an incubator.

“In past years in several workshops they taught us this method and said it could be used as an alternative when an incubator was unavailable,” Najeeb said. “We know of two methods that could be used in situations like this: one is to wrap the baby with cloth while transferring him, or to carry him inside a box,’’ Najeeb told Minivan News. ‘’The towel method was not fit for the baby’s situation because the baby was having seizures.’’

He said the baby was sent to Male’ with oxygen and nurses from Noonu Atoll Hospital, and the hospital decided to use the box method to maintain the infant’s temperature because they were travelling a speedboat and the winds would be high.

He also said that when dealing with such cases the method has been proven to be suitable, adding that the baby was transferred to Male’ without his condition deteriorating.

“The latest I heard about the baby was that Indira Gandi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) had asked the baby’s parents to take him abroad for more treatment,’’ Najeeb said.

Director General of Health Services Dr Ibrahim Yasir meanwhile said the Health Ministry was investigating the case.

“The situation does not appear to be abnormal, the doctor has even advised that a styrofoam box can be a suitable substitute for an incubator,” Dr Yasir said.

“There is shortage of incubators, which is being considered in the investigation. We are trying to find out if the doctor’s recommendation can be approved.”


Dhoni captain appeals for help to save life of thalassaemic daughter

“This could be my one chance to save the life of my daughter.”

When Mohamed Faiz received a letter offering his eight year old thalassaemic daughter a life-saving bone marrow transplant in Italy, departing on October 25, he was ecstatic.

“It was amazing, I was surprised and thought we would never get such an opportunity,” he tells Minivan News.

But their dream was shattered when he learned that while the Italian regional government of Abruzzo would bear the cost of the operations, and the Associazione Genitori Bambini Emopatici (AGBE) would arrange accommodation, the offer was conditional on his paying food and all other living expenses for five months – a cost they estimated at US$4500 (Rf57,375).

The 46 year-old father of four has spent most his life trying to extend the life of the two of his children who suffer from thalassaemia, a crippling genetic disorder that affects the body’s ability to produce red blood cells.

The Maldives has the highest incidence of the disease in the world, and for those like eight year old Fathimath Shama with Beta Thalassaemia Major, the disease causes severe anemia and requires lifelong treatment.

According to the National Thalassaemia Centre of Maldives, Abdul Gafoor, there were more than 690 thalassaemia patients registered in the Maldives last year. Since then, 30 have fully recovered while 150 have passed away.

Separated for his wife and working as a dhoni captain, Faiz spends most of his monthly salary of Rf6500 (US$505) on his two children.

“I wasn’t able to save anything,” he says. “I spent Rf4000-5000 a month on the kids’ blood transfusions, Desferal (a drug used to moderate iron in the blood of transfused patients) and other kid’s stuff, mostly medical treatments essential for their wellbeing.”

The relentless financial pressure of caring for children with thalassaemia makes for “a hard life” he says.

“You have to struggle, and most of your time is spent thinking about the future of the poor kids,’’ Faiz explains. “It’s hard to handle the situation when you have to afford the same treatments every month, without any idea of when you might find a better way.’’

Faiz received word through the government one and a half months ago that Fathimath had been selected for a bone marrow transplant in Italy, a risky procedure with many possible complications and reserved for patients with life-threatening disease, but nonetheless offering a chance of recovery.

His other daughter, aged 18, needs to travel to Italy as well to serve as the bone marrow donor; according to the National Thalassaemia Centre of Maldives, only 10 patients in the Maldives have a donor sibling who matches closely enough to attempt a bone marrow transplant.

But despite beating those odds, and so close to a cure, Faiz has despaired of being able to afford the high cost of living in Italy for five months.

“The organisation will bear the cost of the operation, accommodation and tickets, but we were asked to cover all the other expenses,’’ Faiz says, awkwardly. “We have to stay there five months at least.”

He now believes the offer is the only hope his daughter may fully recover, and increasingly desperate, has resigned from his job to focus full-time on raising money for the trip.

“For an ordinary person like me, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Faiz says. “I would despair with the world if missed this only chance, the only hope to save my daughter. I would have to live knowing I missed a miraculous opportunity to make my daughter normal, and give her a real chance at life.”

Mohamed Faiz can be contacted on (+960) 773 4042, or (+960) 762 7899. Faiz’s Bank of Maldives account number is 7701-153358-101.