The World Health Organisation has conferred an ‘Excellence in Public Health’ award to the health ministry of the Maldives in recognition of successes in disease elimination and eradication.
The Maldives became the first member state of the WHO Southeast Asia region to be verified malaria-free in 2015 and went on to eliminate lymphatic filariasis and measles during the past two years. Polio, as well as maternal and neonatal tetanus, were previously eliminated whilst leprosy is no longer a public health problem.
“Maldives is on an accelerated journey to strengthen its health system. It has been making enormous contributions to health and well-being of its people as well as the region,” Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director of the WHO Southeast Asia Region, said after handing over the award to Health Minister Abdulla Nazim at a function Thursday night.
The WHO noted that the Maldives’ expenditure on health is the highest in the region at nine percent of GDP.
“It has established fully functional primary health centres in every inhabited island, backed by both sea and land ambulance fleets for timely referrals in emergencies. State-run pharmacies have been set up in every inhabited island, which dispense 455 medicines on national essential drug list free of cost,” the WHO said in a statement.
The Aasandha health insurance scheme has meanwhile led to declining out-of-pocket expenditure whilst the health ministry’s Quality of Care Framework, with 125 standards, “covers everything from infrastructure to the competence of health workers, availability of medicines, patient safety and infection control, continuity of care and patient rights.”
The WHO also commended efforts to combat non-communicable diseases such as hiking tariffs for tobacco and energy drinks. The 58 percent hike in import duties was the highest tax increase on sweetened drinks globally, the regional director said.
According to the WHO, the annual award “recognises the contributions of an individual, an institution or a programme that has made significant difference to the improvement of health and well-being of the people in their countries.”
The award was conferred during the annual session of the WHO’s Southeast Asia regional committee that took place from Wednesday to Sunday at the Paradise Island Resort near the capital.
Speaking at the inaugural session, Health Minister Abdulla Nazim said the Maldives now spend “a whopping US$ 810 per head per annum for health – an amount that is double the average of upper middle-income countries.”
The Maldives continues to make progress in reducing maternal, infant and child mortality, he said, noting that life expectancy has reached a level almost equivalent to developed countries.
According to the health ministry, the main challenge facing the public is the growing rates of non-communicable diseases.
“Cancer rate is alarming, diabetes is on the rise, depression is a public health threat,” he said.
“These and many more lifestyle related diseases now account for over 80 percent of total deaths in the country. Unless we consider preventive care to be as important as curative care, we are not going to achieve excellence in health. I call upon all the ministries and agencies to work together as a nation for excellence in health. Immediate and collective action is required to integrate health beyond health.”
Health officials from the 11 member states of the WHO Southeast Asia Regional Committee – the decision-making and governing body for the region – meanwhile endorsed the Malé Declaration during the annual meeting, “committing to build health systems able to anticipate, respond to, cope with, recover from and adapt to climate-related shocks and stress.”
Dr Singh observed that “changes in the spread and abundance of disease-carrying vectors such as mosquitoes, or changes to the physical environment that cause displacement or threaten livelihoods”.
According to the WHO, the declaration “builds on recent initiatives at country, regional and global levels to tackle the public health risks caused by climate change” and “calls on UN agencies and other international organizations, development partners, philanthropic agencies, academic and civil society organizations to mobilize human, financial and technical resources for this purpose.”
The declaration was also accompanied by a Framework for Action to be implemented between 2017 and 2022.
“As outlined in the Declaration, core action points include establishing and strengthening climate change and health information systems and research; integrating climate risks with national disaster risk management; enhancing health sector preparedness for climate-related events, including by securing essential services such as water and sanitation, waste management and electricity; and initiating the greening of the health sector by adopting environment-friendly technologies and using energy-efficient services,” the regional director said.
She committed WHO support for “mobilising resources, promoting knowledge and experience-sharing mechanisms, and providing technical support to Member countries at the same time as building local capacity.”
A progress report will be presented at the Seventy-fifth session of the WHO Regional Committee for South-East Asia in 2022, she added.
The Southeast Asia regional committee is comprised of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste.