Aishath Inaya, a nurse working at a COVID-19 isolation facility in the island nation of Maldives, knows the vital importance of personal protective equipment (PPE). “Unless we can protect and equip ourselves, we won’t be in a position to help others,” she says. “If we are the foot soldiers, PPE is our armour, and medical equipment and supplies our weapons.”
Her concerns are echoed by Mariyam Niyan, a volunteer nurse in Malé, the capital, who ensures that people needing regular medical treatment are not left out during the pandemic. “Without an adequate supply of PPE and other medical equipment, we can’t win the fight against COVID-19.”
Since the first COVID-19 case was reported in early March and the first cases of community transmission were detected in mid-April, cases have continued to rise in Maldives, with over 1,900 cases and eight deaths reported by June 9. In Malé, one of the world’s most densely populated cities, and its surrounding suburbs, the disease has spread rapidly, threatening over 30 percent of the country’s population of 407,660 and an additional 100,000 migrant workers.
The government took swift initial action – restricting tourist arrivals and shutting down resorts, offices, schools, and mosques. With cases rising, the government is now focusing on containment and treatment, carrying out contract tracing, and expanding quarantine facilities. As the country may be disproportionately affected by a global shortage of supplies, being a small island nation, procuring equipment and supplies for health care workers like Aishath and Mariyam is especially important.
The World Bank’s fast track package of $7.3 million is helping the country address the urgent health needs, including procuring PPE and other medical supplies, enhancing testing capacity, strengthening intensive care facilities, supporting hospitals to maintain essential services, and training medical staff to manage positive cases. Initiatives to raise public awareness about hand washing, personal hygiene, and social distancing are also being conducted.
The lack of adequately trained health care workers and the dispersed nature of the archipelago’s population make it even more challenging to provide quality health services, especially in the outer atolls and islands.
“This pandemic has once again highlighted the importance of strong health systems. The efforts to strengthen the health care system of Maldives will not only help make the difference between life and death during the crisis but will bolster the country’s health care efforts for years to come,” explained Rifat Hasan, World Bank Senior Health Specialist.