‘Super specialist’ doctors treat over 700 patients

More than 700 patients across the country have consulted visiting specialist doctors in four days under the government’s new ‘super specialist service.’

Arrangements have been made to send three out of the 762 patients overseas for further medical treatment, the national health insurance provider ‘Aasandha’ said today.

Under the programme, specialist doctors from neighbouring countries will come to the Maldives for one week every month and consult patients at hospitals in three different regions.

Every year, thousands of Maldivians fly to India, Sri Lanka and Thailand, seeking medical treatment unavailable in the country.

“Such a programme allows the government to provide health and social services at a lower cost, with better functioning systems in place,” said the Aasandha office in a press release.

The ‘super specialist service’ will employ neurologists, cardiologists, urologists, neurosurgeons, ENT doctors and paediatricians to provide consultations in different parts of the country.

Some 11 specialist doctors from India and Sri Lana are currently treating patients in Haa Dhaalu Kulhudhuhfushi, Laamu Gan, Gaafu Dhaalu Thinadhoo and Hulhumalé.

A haemoglobin specialist doctor meanwhile visited the Maldives Blood Services and consulted 21 thalassemia patients.

The Aasandha office said that the biggest problem faced by the travelling teams was lack of medicine from island pharmacies.

However, the National Social Protection Agency (NSPA) has assured that the medicines will be provided within five days.

NPSA CEO Mujthaba JaleelSpeaking at the inauguration ceremony of the super specialist programme last week, NSPA CEO Mujthabaa Jaleel said 22 hospitals from India and Sri Lanka will participate in providing doctors.

The visiting doctors will improve healthcare for people suffering from serious conditions, he said.

The super specialist programme is one of the key healthcare pledges in President Abdulla Yameen’s manifesto, Jaleel said.


Visiting specialist doctors to improve healthcare services

The government is enlisting the services of visiting specialist doctors to improve healthcare services in the Maldives.

The ‘Super Specialist Service’ will employ neurologists, cardiologists, urologists, neurosurgeons, ENT doctos and pediatricians to provide consultations in different parts of the country.

The CEO of the national social protection agency, Mujthaba Jaleel, said twenty two foreign hospitals registered with the government’s health insurance scheme, Aasandha, have applied to send specialist doctors to the Maldives.

The visiting doctors will improve healthcare for people suffering from serious conditions, he said.

“Teams of Super Specialists have arrived today morning and have started work at the blood services unit and the Thalasseimia center. Some will start work at hospitals in the north and south tomorrow,” Mujthaba said.

President Abdulla Yameen inaugurated the Super Specialist service on Wednesday and handed over agreement copies to the overseas hospitals contributing to the super specialist program.


Power subsidy deadline extended amid public anger

The government today extended a deadline for households to seek subsidies for electricity by a month as hundreds queued up for hours to submit forms.

Shops in Haa Dhaal Vaikaradhoo shut down today to join growing protests against the government’s decision to cut subsidies for businesses, and Gaaf Dhaal Gahdhoo council said it will now seek rent on lands leased to the state owned electricity company.

The government says the current blanket electricity subsidy benefits the affluent over the needy, and targeting subsidies will rein in expenditure and increase aid to the poor.

But many who queued up to submit forms today were unsure whether they would receive the subsidy as the government has not yet revealed the criteria for a successful application.

“I really don’t know if I will get subsidies. But I’m applying in the hope the government will be fair about it,” applicant Abdul Latheef said.

In an interview with Haveeru last week, the chief executive of the National Social Protection Agency, Mujthaba Jaleel, said that “everyone who applies for subsidy will get it.” But yesterday he said that “the criteria have not yet been set”.

Mujthaba was unavailable for comment today.

People in queues today complained of the extensive documentation required for the application, which includes rent contracts, wage details, and the number of household appliances that use power.

“This application form is a hazard. We have to get a lot of unnecessary documents. It would have been better if they set up an online system instead of making us wait in queues for hours, only to later reject my application,” Mohamed Yoosuf said as he waited in a queue.

The new deadline for form submission has been moved from April 9 to May 9, Ahmed Nihan, an MP for the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives, said in a tweet.

However, the government has stood by its decision to cut subsidies for businesses, despite critics claiming the move would destroy small and medium-sized enterprises on rural islands. Some businesses say their bills have doubled or tripled.

After closing shops earlier this week, businesses in Haa Dhaal Kulhdhuffushi, Gaafu Dhaal Thinadhoo, and Addu City have set up committees to negotiate with the government.

Gahdhoo in Gaaf Dhaal asked state electricity company Fenaka to pay the council MVR 506,840 (US $39,585) for plots of land rented to the company.

“Fenaka has never cooperated with us. Once we got lights to put in the harbour area but Fenaka refused to give power. Then this issue has come up with subsidies. So we have also severed ties with them,” councilor Mohamed Shujau said.

Businesses in Vaikaradhoo are also preparing a petition after a one day shop shut down, while those on southern Fuvahmulah have already submitted a petition demanding a fair price for electricity.

Shop owners have also taken issue with the higher electricity prices in the atolls as compared to Malé City.

Electricity prices are up to 72 percent higher in northern Haa Alif , Haa Dhaal, and Shaviyani Atolls and up to 37 percent higher in Addu City and Fuvahmulaku than in Male’ City, according to figures from Fenaka.



Zakat Fund sponsors bone marrow transplants for thalassemia patients


The Ministry of Islamic Affairs’ Zakat Fund has sponsored bone marrow transplants for 34 children with thalassemia, reports state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM).

The first ten children sponsored under the Zakat Fund departed for Sri Lanka and India with their donors on Thursday (March 12).

The bone marrow operation costs about MVR700,000 per patient, according to the National Social Protection Agency (NSPA).

NSPA CEO Mujthaba Jaleel said the first ten children were chosen based on a list provided by the Maldives Blood Service, adding that accommodation and food expenses would also be covered by the Zakat Fund.

He noted that the children would have to stay in sterilised facilities at the hospital for at least 30 days.

Eight children were sent to the Manipal Hospital in India and two children to the Asiri Central Hospital in Sri Lanka, Jaleel said.

NSPA hoped the second patch of thalassemia patients would be able to depart next month, he added.

First Lady Fathmath Ibrahim meanwhile met the ten children and their families at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport prior to their departure.

NSPA presented the first lady a plaque of appreciation for her contribution and support, whilst Madam Fathmath presented commemorative plaques to the children.


Application for state electricity subsidies opens today

The National Social Protection Agency (NSPA) has announced the commencement of the two month application period for renewed electricity subsidies.

In an announcement made on February 9, the NSPA stated that the period for submission of forms will run from February 10 to April 9.

The forms are to be submitted to the NSPA desk in Faashana Maalam of Dharubaaruge in Malé and island council offices in other regions.

The NSPA recently revealed that the criteria for state provided electricity subsidies is under review to ensure subsidies are granted in a proportional and fair manner, as “the wealthy and the poor are now being the same subsidies”.


MVR20 million saved in electricity subsidies with fall in oil prices: NSPA

The National Social Protection Agency (NSPA) has announced savings of MVR20 million (US$1.3 million) in electricity subsidies due to the steep fall in international oil prices.

Haveeru reported NSPA CEO Mujuthaba Jaleel as saying that the agency had provided a monthly average of MVR81 million (US$5.3 million) in subsidies last year, with this month’s outlay expected to fall by 25 percent.

International oil prices plummeted from US$100 per barrel to US$80 in just three months late last year, while current prices have dipped below the US$50 mark per barrel.

Mujuthaba also said that the recently announced re-registration of people wanting electricity subsidies – between February 10 and April 9 – would result in a further reduction in costs.

The re-registration comes after the government announced it would start providing targeted subsidies for food and electricity in order to ease the state budget deficit.

The International Monetary Fund had previously pointed out the need to target the subsidies saying that it would result in “substantial savings”.

Source: Haveeru


‘Unlimited Aasandha’ scheme will be sustainable, says President Yameen

President Abdulla Yameen last night inaugurated the ‘Unlimited Aasandha’ universal health scheme, a presidential campaign pledge and part of his first hundred day programme.

Criticising the Aasandha service introduced by President Nasheed, Yameen said the new Aasandha will have no limit on the amount of money that can be spent or with regards to age categories.

“Today the state of Aasandha is that every one has one lakh rufiyaa limit. Without any regard to the illness the person has, how much has to be spent, it is over for them when the one lakh limit is reached,” Yameen said.

Yameen stated that the new scheme will be “sustainable and funded by the state budget”. Cabinet Minister Ahmed Adeeb has suggested that ‘Unlimited Aasandha’ and other enhanced social services will be financed through long term government bonds.

President Yameen noted that the following will be covered by the new ‘Unlimited Aasandha’ scheme;

  • Sports injuries – including surgical procedures and rehabilitation treatment for professional athletes
  • All accidents and emergencies that happen while abroad
  • Emergency transfer of patients from islands
  • Transportation tickets for medical escorts to travel abroad with patients under 18 and above 65 years
  • Organ transplants and any permanent medication that is required after such a surgery
  • Unlimited coverage for pregnant women
  • Free annual medical checkups for every citizen above 30 years of age, and for school children

Though persons with special needs are not exempted, their temporary, permanent, and physical aids will not be covered through the service, said Yameen. The president pledged to find a solution to this problem during the next Majlis.

As the ‘old’ Aasandha was reportedly abused by members of the public and even health care providers and pharmacies, Yameen urged all to use the service “in good faith”.

“This is a service that is spent from people’s money for all citizens. So everyone should use it responsibly”.

The new unlimited service is an upgrade from the existing Aasandha programme introduced by President Mohamed Nasheed which encountered a number of issues, particularly with regards to sustainability.

After reaching the brink of financial collapse in August 2012, small charges were introduced to the scheme at private clinics. The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) suggested that Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives and the coalition alliance had deliberately sabotaged the service.

Financing the pledges

The government has also made assurances that it can fulfill its pledges to increase old age benefits and to pay fishermen an allowance of MVR10,000.

The MVR2,000 pension for individuals over 65 years of age was increased to MVR2,300 through an amendment to pension legislation, while President Yameen has pledged to further increase it to MVR5000 starting from 1 March 2014.

The pledge to pay MVR10,000 to every fisherman regardless with or without any catch had later been explained by the Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture as an insurance scheme whereby fishermen would pay a monthly premium of MVR500 (US$32) during the fishing season to gain MVR10,000 (US$ 650) during the off-season.

On Sunday, however, President Yameen said the insurance scheme for the fisheries and agriculture sector was just one of the pledges to have been achieved within the first 100 days and that the  MVR10,000 allowance would be provided for fisherman as promised starting next month.

The government will need to generate MVR1 billion (US$64.9 million) from investments this year to sustain the pension increase alone.

“The economic committee [a cabinet sub-committee] decided to utilise a long term finance instrument based on a long term bond and t-bills through seven to five years,” Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adeeb said at a President’s Office press conference yesterday.

Assuring that the model was capable of financing the increases, Adeeb said that funds could be increased through legislative changes, and suggested that the Maldives could combine various funds – such as housing fund, health insurance, and pensions – into a single fund.

“If you look at countries like Singapore, all these funds are the contained in a single fund,” he said, stating that as a small country it is a good financial model for the Maldives to create a single strong fund.

Budget deficit

Commenting on Adeeb’s proposals, Mahmud Razee – former economic development minister under Mohamed Nasheed’s administration – said that both T-Bills and bonds, even if it they long term, will increase the national debt.

“These are loans, and taking loans is acceptable to invest in to increasing productivity. But this is not such an investment, this is something the government is spending. Eventually people will have to bear the burden of this,” Razee said.

Referring to the proposal to combine funds, Razee said that if the government was serious about it they should establish the necessary legal mechanisms for such a system.

“When we talk about Singapore, we should know that they can do it because they have that level of savings. But that is not the case with us,” he said.

The money in the pension fund has been entrusted with the state by people who want pensions, and it should not be mixed with other funds, Razee argued.

Selling treasury bills and treasury bonds has been one of the main approaches the government has taken to finance the budget deficit over the past few years.

Last December, the central bank and regulator – the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) – advised the state to pay all due treasury bills and treasury bonds and to turn existing short-term debts into long-term ones.

In a 2013 report which described the Maldives as “spending beyond its means”, the World Bank noted that the government had spent over MVR900 million on Aasandha from a budget of just MVR720 million.

Suggestions regarding Aasandha include decreasing the cost of drugs predominantly used by the poorest segments of the population, limiting spending for overseas treatment, moving toward a more close-ended provider payment system, and targeting subsidies only at needier patients.

This year’s record MVR17.95 billion (US$ 1.6 billion) budget has a deficit of MVR1.3 billion (US$84.3 million). The People’s Majlis recently approved a number of revenue-raising measures, while the government has announced it is aiming to reduce expenditure and achieve a balanced budget within a year.


NSPA says Madhana won’t cover new clinic rates

National Social Protection Agency (NSPA) Director, Ibrahim Waheed, has told Haveeru that the Madhana health insurance scheme will not cover increased fees at private clinics. The government lifted control of clinic charges this week.

Earlier this week, an informed source told Minivan News that the clinic fees were likely to stay within the scope of the Madhana’s program.

NSPA reported said the Madhana program only covers the rates currently charged at hospitals and clinics. Any excess charges after the current Madhana rate will have to be paid for by the patient.

Haveeru News reports that some clinics have agreed to keep their current rates, to protect their clients. However, those clinics that want to increase their prices will be required to stop providing insurance services.

Clinics are still required to give the government a month’s notice before implementing price changes.


One third of Maldives poor, despite rich natural resources

President Mohamed Nasheed has said that one third of the Maldives population are poor people, despite the Maldives being a country rich with natural resources and able fulfill all the basic needs of the government.

Speaking at an information session yesterday on the Maldives’ social protection program, President Nasheed said that the country’s GDP showed that the country earned US$7000-US$8000 per head.

The only government could compensate for the disparity in incomes was through government aid, said President Nasheed, ”but there are a lot of difficulties for people to receive this money.”

President Nasheed said the government had introduced 10 types of direct aid to the people.

”When one’s salary has to be spent on shelter, it makes him lessen the amount of care given to a child,” President Nahseed said, ”and there will be no money to spend for the children’s education and no money to maintain good health.”

President Nasheed said that the government was seeking ways that would make its revenue to spend in other beneficial ways.

”Our former president spent Rf 500 million annually to operate the presidential palace,” Nasheed said. ”We decreased it to 50 million and used the left 450 million to introduce allowances for the elderly.”

He said there were 32,000 civil servants with salaries of Rf 5 billion.

”To determine whether it is wise to decrease that amount we know what it is being spent on,”‘ he said. ”Some of this could be used for social protection.”

He said the more the government decreased its expenditure, the more social protection increases.

”if we spent all the money on a block of lifeless concrete, it would not be beneficial,” he said, ”instead we shall spend it on the people.”