Maldives struggles to obtain swine flu vaccine

The Maldives may have difficulty acquiring a vaccine believed to be effective against the H1N1 virus, despite it being produced nearby.

“There are a limited number of companies producing the vaccine, and global vaccine production is pretty low. There’s not enough to meet demand,” said Dr Ahmed Jamsheed Mohamed from the Centre for Community Health and Disease (CCHD).

“Neighbouring countries are producing the vaccine, but it is going to the West,” he claimed. “That’s part of a global issue that existed before swine flu, but it means there a difference between who needs and who gets the vaccine.”

The Maldives has developed a vaccine deployment plan, prioritising healthcare staff, however, nobody has yet been immunised.

There is no indication that wearing a surgical mask, now a common sight around the capital Male’, could protect people from flu infections, he said.

“If worn properly the masks can prevent transmission by people who are symptomatic because it eliminates the droplets,” he said.

“But when you walk around Male’ you see people wearing them like fashion statements, on their chin or forehead – this has no effect at all and probably adds to the problem.”

Temporary flu clinic opens

In response to a rising number of flu patients at Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH), the government has established a temporary hospital in Nasandhura Palace Hotel.

Jamsheed said the clinic was intended to relieve the pressure on IGMH staff with the onset of the flu season.

The clinic will provide anti-viral drug Tamiflu to patients who test positive to Influenza A, he said. Tamiflu is used to treat the virus but the drug is not an effective preventative.

“If we are suspicious that it could be the H1N1 (swine flu) virus we will start the patient on Tamiflu without delay,” Jamsheed said, adding that the country’s current stockpile of 2,500 adult doses “is sufficient”.

Thirty-four patients have tested positive for Influenza A so far, according to the ministry of health and family.

Of those patients 12 tested positive for the H1N1 ‘swine flu’ virus. One of them, a 65 year-old man from Raa Atoll, became the first Maldivian to die from the disease on 19 November.

The remaining 11 were treated and have since been released, Jamsheed said.

The World Health Organisation reports that over 1,000 people are now dying a week from the virus.

However Jamsheed noted that “the mortality rate of swine flu and seasonal flu is pretty much the same, although it depends on the country and things like socioeconomic factors.”