When it comes to healthcare in the Maldives, the answer you receive is highly dependent on who you ask. When you ask an islander about the healthcare facilities available to them, you will almost always get a negative response because islands are not known for having the most developed healthcare facilities in the Maldives.
And, while you might think that asking someone from the capital Male' would get you a better response, you'd be wrong because the healthcare available, while better than on the islands, is nowhere near 'top-notch.'
In a country that boasts about having a tier-based healthcare system, claiming that every inhabited island, even the most sparsely populated one, has a primary health care facility, one might argue that this statement is false, given the number of people who come into the capital and spend their life savings on just healthcare.
While each inhabited island is said to have a ‘primary health care’ facility that provides basic services is a good start, oftentimes these facilities receive close to no development and continue to remain in that stage for years while the healthcare facilities in Male' continue to gradually develop.
The lack of development also appears to only be a problem that has to be faced by the citizens of the island, as problems of local islands continue to be shadowed by the problems faced in cities, leading to thousands being spent on medical trips to Male’ city.
There is also the added burden for islands that do not have flights, in which case people are forced to take speed boats ━ which have led to healthcare complications in the past, especially with pregnant people having to travel to give birth as basic healthcare for women is not available on most islands.
In addition to this, people who suffer from terminal illnesses among many other illnesses often go their whole life receiving no treatment as facilities such as X-rays and basic blood testing are also not available in islands, and unless you can afford to travel for the treatment or get donations from generous citizens or get enough empathy from the government to sponsor your trip, the possibility of ever getting treatment or even getting a diagnosis is another expectation of citizens from the islands that have gone unmet since the beginning of time.
In these cases, saying that every island has primary healthcare sounds a bit odd, unless primary health care means getting bandages and painkillers for every single one of your problems, no matter how severe it may be.
One might think this is an issue only faced by under-developed islands in the Maldives, and citizens just need to book a ticket and travel to the capital in order to receive better treatment. However, even those who are lucky enough to be able to come to the capital have to face layers of struggles before all of it finally leads up to getting a consultation.
The country has three tertiary hospitals that cater to hundreds of thousands of citizens, out of three of them only one is a public hospital. And while the Maldives is praised for the ‘Aasandha’ insurance which provides free healthcare, it is only truly free for those who can get a consultation in the public hospital Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGHM), making it the sole option for anyone who cannot afford big consultation fees at private clinics and hospitals.
However, even this free healthcare comes at a cost as the queues are long and the consultation numbers can go up to four or even five hundred right after the doctor opens up consultations. This is the case no matter how serious your health concerns may be, leading to people waiting for months and sometimes even a year waiting for the consultation ━ in most cases leading to deteriorating health, mass cancellations and neglecting health problems due to the difficulty in seeing a doctor. The solution to this long period of waiting? Paying for a private clinic and having to bear the massive hospital bill.
Another issue that is severely under-discussed when it comes to the healthcare available in the Maldives is the availability of mental health care. While the capital city is known to have a few options, as expensive as it may be, for the longest time mental healthcare facilities were unheard of on islands. While psychiatrist services are only available in 5 atolls, almost all therapy sessions have to be conducted online, unless there is a visiting doctor on the island at the time.
Even though the administration-established center of mental health has a record of 41,890 consultations by February 2022, the queue for those who are still waiting for their turn is growing at an alarming rate.
Despite the fact that the number of patients queuing for mental health services is a clear cry for help, this plea falls on deaf ears as the issue is swept under the rug and nothing is done to address it.
In a report published by the Maldives partnership forum, according to WHO, of the number of lives lost in the Maldives due to ill health, disability, and early death, NCDs account for 78 percent of the total disease burden.
And many have begun to highlight terminal illnesses such as cancer being on the rise in the Maldives, and while we all look for answers to these issues in what people eat in their diet, it is time to shine a light on the healthcare available in most parts of the Maldives, as one of the root causes of untreated and undiagnosed deaths is undoubtedly the healthcare and lack of awareness and development brought into islands in the health sector.