Health sector a top priority for 2015, says President Yameen

The 2015 budget will improve health care services in the Maldives, President Abdulla Yameen has said at the inauguration of a new wing of the regional hospital on Raa Atoll Ungoofaaru.

Identifying a lack of adequate health services on all islands as a top grievance, Yameen said his administration will not discriminate between islands or atolls in providing quality health care and will improve the country’s “severely deteriorated health sector”.

According to the 2015 budget, MVR3.4 billion (US$220 million) of the record MVR24.3 billion (US$1.5 billion) budget would be spent on health care. Of this amount, MVR3.1 billion (US$201 million) amounts to recurrent expenditure.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has criticised the lack of funds in the 2015 budget for the ruling Progressive Party of the Madlives’ (PPM) main healthcare pledges – the ‘doctor for every family’ and the sea ambulance in every atoll schemes.

The party has also highlighted the reduction of funds for medical care abroad from MVR31.3 million (US$2 million) in 2014 to MVR10.5 million (US$680,000) in 2015. The domestic health care budget was also reduced from MVR9.3 million (US$603,000) in 2014 to MVR6.5 million (US$421,000) in 2015, the party said.

Yameen said the government has now established sea ambulance services in seven atolls and employed a gynecologist in all atoll hospitals except Vaavu Atoll. He praised the availability of unlimited healthcare under the Aasandha national health insurance scheme.

On December 15, Defense Minister and acting health minister Mohamed Nazim met with Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s Special Commissioner Major General Kung Lee to discuss the technical expertise needed to establish sea ambulance services in the Maldives.

Yameen said the government’s priority is to establish a pharmacy through the state wholesaler State Trading Organization (STO) on every island. 57 pharmacies have been established this year alone, the president noted.

“If there is a pharmacy in every atoll, I find it easy to sleep at night. The government will provide the essential medicines. I am assured that citizens would get their required medicine at controlled prices,” Yameen said.

Former Health Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela has previously highlighted the abundance of of counterfeit pharmaceutical products in the country as a challenge to the health sector.

Yameen last night said the Raa Atoll Regional Hospital, which caters to 15,000 people, will provide similar level of services available in capital Malé,

The hospital now has 12 specialist doctors as well as dentistry and dialysis units, explained Nazim.

President Yameen also criticised MDP’s rejection of the 2015 budget as “irresponsible,” and noted that Raa Atoll Alifushi MP Mohamed Rasheed had voted against the budget despite several development projects budgeted for his constituency.

“I would like to note, the MP rejected the budget despite development projects being budgeted for [the Alifushi] constituency. Citizens must know this,” said Yameen.

The MPs’ rejection of the entire budget is an indication they do not want development for their constituencies, Yameen said.

The MDP rejected the budget after the PPM had failed to back the party’s budget recommendations including allocating MVR100 million (US$6.4 million) and MVR75 million (US$4.8 million) respectively to provide subsidies for fishermen and farmers.

Other proposals included adding persons with disabilities and single parents as categories eligible for government subsidies to the poor and requiring the finance ministry to submit quarterly reports to parliament concerning the implementation of the budget.

The PPM did, however, scrap plans to impose a 10 percent import duty on staple foodstuffs and oil as advocated by opposition party.

Yameen last night said the government has built a harbour, and established complementary solar panel systems and a waste management system on Ungoofaaru this year.

In 2015, the government will establish a rainwater harvesting and storage system, build roads, renovate the football field, construct a sports arena on the island, and establish a new police station on the island, the president added.

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Laamu Atoll identified as potential SEZ as Yameen inaugurates link road

President Abdulla Yameen yesterday inaugurated the Laamu Atoll link road, revealing that the area has also been identified as a potential special economic zone.

The president stated that the road – to be built and and financed by the Chinese government – was symbolic of the close ‎friendship between the two nations.

Meanwhile, the Maldives has officially signed up to China’s Maritime Silk Route project, with economic development minister Mohamed Saeed signing an MoU during the first meeting of the Joint Committee on Trade and Economic Cooperation in Beijing today.

The agreement will allow the Maldives to take an “active role” in the construction of the project as well as sharing information on national economic development plans, explained the foreign ministry.

Chinese state media have previously reported that the route will pass the intended site of the Ihavandhippolhu Integrated Development Project – or ‘iHavan’ – in the Maldives northernmost atoll.

President Xi Jinpeng has repeatedly called upon the Maldives to become involved in the project, which Xinhua has reported to have the support of over 50 countries.

One such urging came during Xi’s state visit to the Maldives in September – the first by a Chinese head of state, representing the rapidly expanding ties between the two countries.

The Laamu link road project was also unveiled during Xi’s visit. The 15.1km road will become the longest in the country, linking four of the atoll’s 13 administrative islands.

President Yameen said yesterday that the ‎road development project was integral to realising the developmental ‎aspirations of the atoll. He also announced that the area may be selected as a special economic zone.

Facilitated by the government’s flagship Special Economic Zones Act, the proposed deregulated areas have provoked criticism on grounds of transparency and the disempowerment of local authorities.

A minimum investment of US$150 million is required for SEZ developments, with no zones having been announced since the act was passed in August.

The president also noted during yesterday’s inauguration ceremony that the government’s Thumburi ‘Integrated Resort Development’ project – touted as a ‘responsible’ way to expand mid-market tourism – was also located in the atoll.

Signs of burgeoning China-Maldives ties were evident elsewhere yesterday as representatives of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army met with Minister of Defence Colonel (retired) Mohamed Nazim to discuss the acquisition of sea ambulances.

After pledging to provide ambulances in all 26 of the country’s atolls, the government has this year introduced services in six. Local media reported that additional vessels will be purchased with Chinese assistance.

As well as pledges to assist with the redevelopment of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport and construction of the Malé-Hulhulé bridge, in the past two months China has gifted the Maldives 200,000 energy efficient lights, 200 waste bins, fresh water during the recent water crisis, and US$500,000 towards the subsequent relief fund.

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Pneumonia patient dies on sea ambulance en route to Malé

A 31-year-old woman diagnosed with pneumonia has died on the sea ambulance en route to Malé on Sunday night.

Fathimath Naeem of Faafu Atoll Nilandhoo Island died at 10:30, approximately 30 minutes after a sea ambulance left Nilandhoo, the island’s council has said.

Fathimath is survived by her husband and a five-year-old daughter.

A pregnant woman also gave birth on a Nilandhoo street while waiting for the same sea ambulance, the council said. Both the mother and child are in good health, the Faafu Atoll Nilandhoo Hospital has said.

President Abdulla Yameen’s administration introduced sea ambulance services in May to provide emergency transportation from all inhabited islands in the country.

There are no sea ambulances stationed at Faafu Atoll and the atoll’s islands use neighboring Dhaal Atoll’s speedboat. According to the island council, the hospital had called for a sea ambulance at midday, but the speedboat only arrived at 10pm.

According to Nilandhoo Council President Ahmed Ali, health services at Faafu Atoll Hospital are poor. He also said pregnant women routinely go to Malé to give birth, as there are no gynecologists, surgeons or anesthetists at the hospital.

The sea ambulance incident is the latest in a series of service failures in recent weeks.

The Health Ministry appealed to island councils to refrain from criticising health services, claiming councils were spreading false information in the media.

The ministry said such claims lead to a loss in confidence in health services and said it did not have the required budgetary support to buy new equipment and renovate health posts.

On Saturday, northern Haa Dhaal Atoll Kulhudhuffushi islanders held a protest over deteriorated healthcare conditions in the region.

The Haa Dhaal council released a statement expressing concern over “comatose” health services and condemned a severe lack of doctors, equipment and facilities at the regional hospital.

The council said a woman had to be flown to Malé to sew up a cut to the vagina during childbirth and an infant suffered damages to the head during a caesarean.

“The council calls on the Ministry of Health and all relevant authorities to recruit two more gynecologists, a physician, a cardiologist, ultra sound scanning machine, an x-ray machine, 4 ECD machines, two fetal Doppler and adequate supplies for and facilities in the twelve health centers in Haa Dhaal Atoll,” the statement read.

In response, Shakeela told regional newspaper Kulhudhuffushi Online work is underway to improve regional health facilities and said the ministry is recruiting doctors to staff regional hospitals.

The Health Ministry is also in the process of purchasing a new x-ray machine and laboratory equipment for the Kulhudhuffushi hospital, she said. But the process will take time, as equipment is imported from abroad, she added.

The government in May announced it is seeking 225 additional doctors, and said it will place 91 medial officers in health centers across the country.

On June 3, councilors of the southern Fuvahmulah Island held a press conference blasting Health Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela for “worsening conditions” at the hospital after a case of stillbirth and the death of a soldier on the island.

In February, the Indhira Gandhi Memorial Hospital in Malé transfused HIV positive blood to a patient due to an alleged technical error.


Government to introduce nationwide sea-ambulance service

The government has announced it is to start a sea ambulance service within two months and expand it nationwide within the year, Haveeru has reported.

In a press conference held to announce the service, Ministry of Defense Mohamed Nazim said it will be initially launched for four regions and later expanded to twenty three zones, covering the whole country. According to Haveeru, the service will be covered under the Aasandha national health insurance scheme.

“The objective is to take patients to a health center instead of bring them to Malé,” Nazim was quoted as saying.

Speed boats under the Ministry of Health, Maldives Police Services and Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) are to be converted into ‘sea-ambulances’ for the service, with enough space for patients and necessary health equipment.

Quoting Health Minister Mariyam Shakeela, Haveeru reported that to this day a health ambulance service was not provided properly and only six out of twenty six speed boats owned by the ministry were usable.

The service will be begin with a government allocated budget, but will depend on funding from the United Nations and the Red Crescent, Shakeela was quoted as saying. According to the minister, the service will create new jobs, where employees will be well trained and covered by a special insurance scheme.

The MNDF will be managing the ambulances and emergency operations will be carried out by MNDF area commands.