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First lady stirs controversy with distribution of flu medicine and vaccines

The first lady’s campaign office began distributing masks, medicine and leaflets about influenza in Malé on Thursday and planned to send supplies to islands facing shortages.



First Lady Fathmath Ibrahim has stirred controversy with the distribution of medicine and influenza vaccine amid the ongoing flu outbreak.

The first lady’s campaign office began distributing masks, medicine and leaflets about influenza in Malé on Thursday and planned to send supplies to islands facing shortages.

MPs from the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives subsequently started posting photos of ministers and lawmakers assisting the first lady with packing boxes at the former presidential residence, prompting online paper VFP to report that the boxes of panadol came from the State Trading Organisation.

Angered by the VFP report, MP Ahmed Mubeen posted a bill showing that the first lady paid MVR61,788 (US$4,000) for the medicine. But VFP noted that the payment date was three days after the distribution began.

“STO Health takes professionally under business principles, that involves purchase orders and delivery notes. Bill will be raised after that,” Mubeen tweeted in response to VFP‘s second story.

The controversy was reignited Sunday morning when Dr Abdulla Afeef wrote on his Facebook page about the dangers of mishandling the influenza vaccine.

The post came after Mubeen said on Twitter that the influenza vaccine has also been bought. He also posted photos of MPs Mohamed Ali and Abdulla Yameen taking out the vaccine from a cooler.

Dr Afeef, a prominent children’s specialist, warned that the influenza vaccine will be damaged if it is not kept a temperature between two to six degrees celsius from production to administration. He also cautioned against vaccinating outside a clinic or hospital in case of an allergic reaction.

After advising the closing of schools due to the rapidly spreading H1N1 type of influenza virus, health officials also told the press last week that the Maldives has “a limited stock” of the influenza virus.

The tertiary hospitals in Malé have since been vaccinating pregnant women, who are among a high-risk group that could develop complications due to the flu along with children under five years of age, the elderly, and people with pre-existing conditions like lung or heart diseases.

After Dr Afeef’s post was picked by several media outlets, Mubeen told newspaper Mihaaru that the H1N1 vaccine was not brought in for distribution.

“The vaccine was brought in at the required temperature under the supervision and advice of a relevant expert. The vaccine was also administered by health sector officials. That vaccine was brought in for a particular group,” he was quoted as saying.

But Mubeen did not specify which group the vaccine was intended for.

Addressing criticism directed towards the first lady over seeking to benefit politically from the outbreak, Mubeen said her initiative was worthy of gratitude and commendation.

“She is not doing it because the health sector isn’t providing the services that it has to. It is done as a social service to help the public,” he said.

Mubeen was not responding to calls.

The state media reported on Sunday that the vaccine brought in by the first lady was intended for persons with disabilities.

According to other media outlets, the vaccine is being administered by the government’s health insurance office Aasandha at booths set up at the Billabong school in Malé and the Hulhumalé hospital.

Accompanied by ruling party lawmakers, the first lady visited the site late on Sunday afternoon.

“In response to the flu outbreak, after buying medicine from the Maldives and overseas, First Lady Fathmath Ibrahim has been working to send it to various islands through the relevant government offices,” the Public Service Media said.

The online paper VFP was meanwhile launched in October by the team of journalists that ran the Channel News Maldives, which was shut down after it exposed how an NGO linked to the first lady was distributing dates donated by the king of Saudi Arabia.

Another story alleged the first lady was given a share of government’s quota allocations for the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. CNM also published a letter sent to the finance ministry by the Islamic minister with instructions to give half of a US$24,000 grant donated by Abu Dhabi to Fathmath’s Sadagat Foundation.

The first lady, known as Madam Fathun, previously came under fire for distributing cash to the chronically ill at the hospital and during visits to households in Malé.

In early January, the anti-graft watchdog ruled out corruption in the distribution of dates gifted by Saudi Arabia under the name of the first lady’s charity.

After launching President Abdulla Yameen’s re-election campaign in January, the first lady has also been touring several atolls, visiting several islands in Noonu, Haa Alif, Haa Dhaal, and Gaaf Alif atolls.

On each island, she visited persons with disabilities, met with social workers, and collected membership forms for the PPM.

Several events have also taken place over recent weeks to accept hundreds of new membership forms for the PPM, most recently a ceremony on Monday morning to welcome 150 new members from the islands of Bilehdhoo and Magoodhoo in Faafu atoll.