Address by Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, at the 50th Anniversary of WHO-Maldives Partnership

06 December 2015

Your Excellency President of the Republic of Maldives,

Mr Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom,

Honorable Minister of Health, Ms Iruthisham Adam,

Colleagues of UN Agencies, Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today is indeed a special day; a day to mark an important landmark of the shared journey of the people of Maldives and the World Health Organization.

It was on 25th February 1965 when WHO, was the first UN agency, to open its country office in the Maldives. And since that day, the last 50 years journey has indeed been an incredible one. Therefore, it is with great pleasure and also with great pride that I have the honour to be here to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of independence of the Republic of Maldives and, also to mark the 50th Anniversary of WHO-Maldives partnership.

My special thanks to the Honorable President for gracing the occasion.

WHO’s work in the Maldives precedes the actual opening of the WHO country office. It was in 1951 when WHO first fielded a mission to conduct a survey for lymphatic filariasis. Subsequently WHO’s engagement expanded to address overall health needs of the country. In the decades since then, the Maldives made remarkable progress in the establishment of health services and building a health system that yielded many successes in public health. Based on the principles of Primary Health Care, Maldives has established a network of well-quipped hospitals on the islands, initiated key preventive health programmes and services, and put in place policies that strove to deliver equitable, accessible and quality health care services for all its people. The results are truly remarkable.

• Life expectancy in Maldives increased from 47 years in 1977 to 77 years in 2012;

• Infant mortality dropped from 34 per 1000 live births in 1990 to 9 per 1000 live births in 2011; and

• maternal mortality fell from 500 per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 56 per 100,000 in 2011.

Maldives achieved 5 out of 8 MDGs by 2008, and is well on track to achieve the other 3 Goals ahead of 2015 deadline, making it a MDG+ country. In addition, malaria and polio are eradicated, and the country is about to be declared filarial free as well. Measles and rubella have not been registered since 2010. Further, Maldives introduced the inactivated polio vaccine in 2015 and is the only country in the South-East Asia Region to do so with domestic resources. Maldives, therefore, is truly a shining example to other countries.

This would not have been possible without the wisdom and the commitment of national leadership at every step. It is with appreciation that I congratulate His Excellency, the President, and the Government for the remarkable achievements in the health sector. Coupled with overall socio-economic development, improved health has led to poverty alleviation; achievement of universal primary and secondary education, prolonged life expectancy and the overall improvement of health and well-being of the people of the Maldives.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

WHO is proud to be a credible and trusted partner of the Government and the people of the Maldives. It is heartening to note the continued commitment at the highest level and, under the insightful leadership of His Excellency, the President, and with the professional execution by the Health Minister, the Maldives health sector is already undergoing further reforms to meet the emerging needs of the country. Such reforms include the introduction of General Practitioner’s services, Health Insurance as Unlimited Aasandha with expanded service coverage, and the expansion of pharmacies to islands to make essential drugs and medicines available and accessible to all people.

These efforts have been matched with increasingly higher financial allocations in the national budget where I see a noteworthy spending of about 40 per cent on the social sectors. This high allocation is certainly one of the highest in the South Asia Region, and I commend the Government of the Maldives for its farsightedness. It is important to rejoice at the successes and strengths of the current systems. But the country is going through rapid transition in addition to emerging health needs that already is testing sorely the systems and services currently available. While we rejoice at elimination or eradication of important communicable diseases, sedentary lifestyles, dietary habits and environmental conditions are bringing in problems of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases and cancers. In addition, as people live longer, the health care needs of an ageing population place additional stress on existing systems. Further, with changing technology and evolving epidemiology of diseases, health care costs are rising fast.

The Maldives, in addition, has the unique problems faced by low lying island countries. Rising sea level and climate change are already having visible effect on both environment and health of the population. These challenges coupled with health system issues such as human resource shortage, under-utilization of some regional health facilities, and high out of pocket expenditure are concerns that will need to be addressed. But I am confident that the leadership of the Maldives will rise to the challenges adequately. WHO, as always, stands ready to support the country as we move from the era of MDG to the vast landscape of the recently adopted UN Sustainable Development Goals or the SDGs.

Against the backdrop of these achievements, ladies and gentlemen, it is my great pleasure to certify the Maldives as Malaria Free, the first country in our Region to be certified so. I am deeply honored to present to His Excellency, the President, the WHO Certificate declaring the Maldives as “Malaria Free”. I would like to take this moment to express my heartfelt Congratulations to His Excellency, the President, to the Minister of Health, and to the hundreds of health workers who toil relentlessly in far flung and difficult areas to make such achievements possible.

My thanks to all our partners who have been working closely with us. I would also like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation of the unstinting support given by the WHO Country Office to the Ministry of Health and the hard work that they put in to make such events possible. My congratulations to you all.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Lastly, I would like to thank His Excellency, the President, Cabinet Ministers, and the Hon’ble Health Minister for the kind invitation extended to me to be part of this august gathering to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Independence as well as 50th Anniversary of Maldives-WHO collaboration.

Thank You