Maldivian Red Crescent mobilizes country-wide awareness campaign to combat severe influenza outbreak

Published: 22 March 2017 10:14 CET

The Maldivian Red Crescent has been at the forefront of efforts to curb an outbreak of Acute Respiratory Infections, including cases of the H1N1 influenza virus infection, known colloquially as ‘swine flu’, which has claimed three lives in the country in 2017.


According to statistics released by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) on 21 March, the number of people with Acute Respiratory Infections stands at 1,440, with the highest number of cases recorded in Laamu Atoll.  155 people have tested positive for the H1N1 virus, of which 32 have been hospitalised. 


Based on the rapid increase in influenza cases since February, the Government raised the national health alert to Level 3 to prevent the spread of the virus. Schools and universities have been closed until further notice and four flu clinics have been established in the capital city Male’. The HPA has also advised against non-essential travel between Malé and the country’s atolls (island groups) during the upcoming holidays, and some organisations have granted paid leave to pregnant women to minimise their risk of exposure to the virus.


“There are a number of factors that could be driving the outbreak”, explains Kym Blechynden, Emergency Health Coordinator with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Asia Pacific Regional Office.


“The high population density, particularly in Male’ means that infectious diseases can spread easily between community members, coupled with a very mobile population – people are constantly moving between islands within the Maldives for work or travel.”


The Maldives has a high population density of 1,102 people per square kilometre, making it the eleventh most densely populated country on earth.


According to the 2017 World Population Review there are about 70,000 foreign workers in the country, as well as 33,000 undocumented migrants, who make up about one-third of the total population. Most migrant workers are from Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.


The Maldivian Red Crescent volunteers and staff have been supporting prevention efforts by disseminating information to the population on how to protect themselves against infection. Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials including key messages, leaflets, videos and Public Service Announcements (PSA’s) have been developed in the different languages used by migrant populations, including Chine, Filipino, Nepali, Bengali, Hindi and Malayalam.


“From the very initial stage of the response our volunteers came together to find ways to reach the most vulnerable groups with preventative messages. Their commitment has been very inspiring and heartwarming,” said Aishath Noora Mohamed, Secretary General of the Maldivian Red Crescent.


The Maldivian Red Crescent has been very proactive in its response to ensure community members from migrant communities are able to access appropriate information. They have shared PSA’s with TV Channels for broadcast and made full use of the high level of mobile phone connectivity across the country, disseminating messages in a variety of languages. 71% of Maldivians are social media users and the Red Crescent has its Twitter and Facebook accounts very effectively to reach a huge audience.


These materials were adapted from the IFRC’s “Your Best Defence is You’ campaign which highlights the importance of personal protection during a flu outbreak. The key messages are - wash your hands, cover your mouth, keep your distance, separate your sick and dispose of your waste.


The Red Crescent’s Male’ branch is coordinating with other local NGO’s on awareness efforts. They have established an information dissemination centre in the capital and staff and volunteers are contacting private companies where migrant workers are employed to assess their health status and information needs. So far more than 98 private companies have been contacted.


In neighbouring India, sixteen people died of ‘swine flu’ in Maharashtra in the first half of March, taking the death toll to 26 in the state this year. More than 100 people have tested positive for the disease in the state. Another six deaths including one pregnant woman, have also been reported in Rajasthan state so far in 2017.


The IEC materials produced under the IFRC’s ‘Your Best Defence is You’ campaign are available here