Resigning in the wake of last week’s transfusion of HIV positive blood to a patient is not the solution to problems in the health sector, Health Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela told MPs on the government oversight committee on Friday (February 28).
Dr Shakeela told the opposition-majority oversight committee that “human error” was to blame for the incident at the government-run Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH), as the lab technician reported the blood as negative despite the machine showing otherwise.
“My resignation isn’t going to solve this. I could resign if that is the case. My resignation is not going to solve it. That’s why I am saying, what is the solution? The solution is all of us cooperating and working together to improve the system,” she said.
Shakeela added that she had been receiving text messages calling for her resignation.
Asked by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ahmed Hamza if she accepted “full responsibility without any excuses” for the incident, Shakeela replied that she accepts responsibility for “providing benefits” to whomever it was owed.
The ministry would attempt to explain to the public that the incident occurred due to “human error,” she stressed, adding that she did not think members of the public would stop visiting the government-run tertiary hospital.
As the donor was found by the patient, Shakeela stressed that the blood sample did not come from the hospital’s blood bank. The donor was not previously registered as an AIDs patient.
The government was ready to take whatever measures were necessary to restore public confidence, she added.
The minister also denied that there was a cover-up, or that the revelation to the media was prompted by leaked information.
Shakeela urged MPs to consider the mishap as “a one-off” incident caused by a mistake.
“Don’t think that this will keep happening to us all the time. We are taking steps for example to try and go to a fully automated system, to improve it and reduce human mistakes,” she said.
Upon learning of the incident on February 19, Shakeela said she informed the World Health Organisation (WHO), seeking advice and assistance following an emergency meeting with high-level officials at the Health Ministry.
The Health Ministry acted in line with international best practices, she said, and immediately launched independent inquiries.
The incident was revealed to the media shortly after receiving a draft report from an independent committee, she added, noting that further investigations were taking place to identify shortcomings at the hospital.
The machines at IGMH were state of the art whilst the standard operating procedures (SOPs) and protocols were at international standards, she noted.
Health Ministry Director General Dr Sheeza Ali meanwhile revealed that the laboratory was presently not “ISO certified”.
“But we are starting work during this year towards ISO certification. It is likely that we might not reach the latest [standards] as we might not be able to fulfil all the requirements,” she said.
While the Health Ministry had asked for a “realistic budget” of MVR4 billion, Permanent Secretary Geela Ali said the budget approved by parliament had only MVR2.5 billion earmarked for the health sector.
Of the MVR2.5 billion annual budget, Geela noted that MVR1.8 billion was allocated for the National Social Protection Agency (NSPA).
Shakeela meanwhile told MPs that the health sector was in disarray, with crumbling infrastructure and facilities due to insufficient funds allocated in the state budget for many years.
“If we look at machinery, a screw comes loose from the machine and it falls on the head of the patient who is taken into the operating theatre,” she said.
Moreover, attracting qualified foreign doctors was “very difficult” as the salary of doctors in the Maldives has not kept pace with pay rises for doctors in the South Asian region, she explained.
Due to the budget constraints, Shakeela said the ministry was seeking foreign assistance, and that machinery and equipment were “on the way”.
In response to complaints regarding the budget, MDP MPs on the committee pointed out that health policy was formulated by the government while the state budget was proposed by the Finance Ministry, reviewed by a budget committee controlled by the ruling coalition, and approved by the government majority in parliament.