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    Public health at risk in Maldives as Shivdasani lab performance exposed

    By Our Reporter
    Whilst most in the Maldives medical sector worked tirelessly and as true heroes to protect and care for those affected during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and beyond, there was unfortunately a group of sinister players (individuals, businesses and the government) at large with vested interests.

    They clearly took advantage of the dire health situation sweeping the world by putting money and the risk of being caught ahead of the public’s health safety.

    A catalogue of more than just an unfortunate series of events occurred. The consequence of their actions and greed was that several thousand people were put at risk.

    The catalogue of disasters are summarised below:

    1. False Negative Results: A lab funded by Sonu Shivdasani and operated by ADK Hospital was accused of providing false negative results, suggesting that individuals who were infected with COVID-19 were declared as negative and allowed to enter resorts and other tourist destinations. This alleged negligence led to the spread of the virus within popular resorts like Anantara Kihavah and OBLU Sangeli, resulting in significant financial losses and potential health risks for guests.

    2. Cover-Up by Health Protection Agency: The Health Protection Agency (HPA) in the Maldives was accused of covering up issues related to the lab and failing to take appropriate action despite receiving multiple complaints. It was suggested that the HPA did not adequately address concerns about the accuracy of the lab’s testing procedures and potential health risks associated with false negative results.

    3. Profit Motives: Despite being initially presented as a generous donation, it was revealed that the lab was a business venture with, first and foremost, profit motives. Charging a high fee of USD$130 per test, the lab was estimated to make a substantial daily income of MVR 2-3 million due to the high tourist traffic. This raised questions about prioritising financial gain over ensuring the accuracy and reliability of the testing process.

    4. Political Influence: Sonu Shivdasani, the individual behind the funding and establishment of the lab, was accused of using his political influence through financial support to ruling party members. This potential influence raised concerns about government agencies like the HPA being hindered from taking action against the lab, despite the allegations and complaints.

    These accusations collectively raised significant concerns about the integrity and reliability of the PCR testing conducted at the lab, as well as the transparency and accountability of the entities involved. Indeed, the allegations against the HPA suggested that the agency may have been influenced or pressured to protect the interests of the PCR testing laboratory in the Maldives.

    So, what exactly happened?

    The background

    On March 7, 2020, it was confirmed that the global COVID-19 pandemic had spread to the Maldives. Just five days later a public health emergency was declared across the country.

    Following this, the number of positive tests for the severed acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) increased daily, culminating in it having the world’s highest number of infections per million people in May 2021, according to Bloomberg.

    In July 2020, a laboratory was opened in the Maldives’ Maafaru International Airport so that PCR tests (polymerase chain reaction tests, a fast and highly accurate way to diagnose certain infectious diseases including coronavirus) could be carried out on the general public to test for COVID-19.

    The set-up of the lab, along with its machines and other equipment, was positioned and reported as being made possible thanks to a generous donation from business tycoon, Sonu Shivdasani. It has been estimated that the lab’s two machines and other equipment would have cost Shivdasani in the region of USD$75,000.

    The actual management of the lab was led by ADK Hospital, which has the self-proclaimed vision and mission ‘to be the leading healthcare provider in the country (the Maldives) through innovation and excellence’, ‘…dedicated to provide quality heathcare for the community.’

    The lab’s real purpose – patients or profit?

    In reality, however, the real incentive behind the lab was to make money. A lot of money. Instead of it being the philanthropic venture it purported to be and backed by a tycoon who had his fellowman’s best interests at heart, its operations and pricing were far more aligned with a ‘quick buck’ money-making business venture that took full and fast advantage of the confused and manic state caused by the unprecedented situation of the worldwide pandemic.

    Located at the Maldives’ Maafaru International Airport, a location surrounded by many resorts, the lab thrived off the public health guidelines, which stated that visitors must be tested for COVID-19 prior to departing the country.

    Charged at USD$130 per test, basic math shows the vast profits that the lab was making. In fact it has been reported that in just one week the lab made enough money to pay Shivdasani back the full amount of his speculated USD$75,000 donation. Meaning nothing but high profits thereafter for both ADK and Shivdasani.

    It is when one takes a deeper look into the background of the so-called ‘donor’, Sonu Shivdasani, when his motivation to make a quick buck in taking advantage of a critical health scare becomes even more likely.

    Who is Sonu Shivdasani? He is a British hotelier who founded the Soneva resort chain and its luxury resorts in the Maldives and Thailand.

    And he already has a list of lawsuits and allegations against him both personally and against his company. Interestingly, some of these legal matters also portray an individual who has put money ahead of health and safety.

    For example, Shivdasan’s Soneva Kiri Resort was not constructed in line with the legal safety standards required, and has been under investigation by the Department of Special Investigation by the Natural Resources and Environment Division in Thailand.

    Indeed, the consequences of the resort’s inadequate safety standards were made manifest in March 2022 when a massive fire broke out at the Soneva Kiri Resort on Koh Kut island and gutted one of the site’s villas. Charges were brought against three executives of the resort, including Sonashah Shivdasani, and included causing a fire by negligence, causing damages to people’s property, endangering other persons, and allowing others to use the building for hotel business without obtaining a license from the local officials.

    The lab’s (in)effectiveness…

    The Maafaru International Airport’s lab tested several thousand people for COVID-19. Whilst false negatives were unavoidable, there were found to be several hundreds at Maafaru Airport lab – far, far more that what would be deemed an acceptable number of inaccurate tests. This vast failure has been described as ‘sheer carelessness’ on the part of the lab.

    One resort that send samples to the Maafaru Airport lab was Anantara Kihavah Resort. All came back negative. Yet many in the resort who had received negative tests quickly began developing severe symptoms, akin to those caused by COVID-19. When an alternative test was used it was found that many who had been cleared by the Maafaru Airport lab tested positive for COVID-19.

    In fact, it is highly likely that the Maafaru Airport’s lab – along with ADK’s main hospital lab – were responsible for the third wave of COVID-19 infections that swept through the country a year later. This is because several thousand people who had been tested and diagnosed with false negatives at either of the labs were free to travel through the country and, unbeknown to them, spread the virus to others.

    The Health Protection Agency – did it forget the word ‘protection’?

    When the matter of the ‘false negatives’ came to the media’s attention, The Health Protection Agency (HPA) in the Maldives made the matter even worse by forgetting its core objective – that is, the protection of its citizens. It tried to cover things up, claiming it was unaware of any false negative test results that had been released by the lab.

    However, several resorts categorically claim that they had shared their concerns with the HPA, along with both Shivdasani and ADK Hospital.

    In an interview conducted by the UK’s Sun newspaper, the HPA stated that the Maafaru Airport lab had been closed because of a change in the lab’s management, and since there were a “few things” that needed to be modified before the lab changed hands.

    Shivdasani…a man of many connections

    So why did the HPA show such a reluctance to take the correct measures against the management of the Maafaru Airport lab?

    It is most likely because of the vested interests of the politically-influential figures involved in the situation.

    During a state of public health emergency, the Director General of Public Health in the Maldives – as is the norm elsewhere – is given several legal powers, which it is very good at enforcing upon its regular citizens.

    Yet when it comes to the rich and powerful people and politicians, it seems to back off and hide in the shadows. The results of such action are clear to see in how the HPA dealt – or failed to deal – with a serious matter, at a critical time.

    It is no secret that Sonu Shivdasani maintains close ties with high-ranking members of the ruling MDP. Indeed, he personally financed several MDP parliamentarians’ campaigns during the 2019 Majlis elections, and it is reported that he put many millions into President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s presidential campaign in 2018.

    The financial support provided by Sonu Shivdasani to ruling party members suggested a close relationship or affiliation between the lab and influential individuals within the government. This connection raised questions about whether the HPA, as a government agency, may have been influenced or pressured to protect the lab due to its association with powerful political figures.

    Perhaps the financial support from the lab’s founder, Sonu Shivdasani, to ruling party members could have created conflicts of interest. The HPA’s role is to safeguard public health and ensure the integrity of testing procedures. However, if there are financial ties between the lab and influential individuals within the government, it may compromise the agency’s ability to make unbiased decisions and take appropriate action when necessary.

    And let’s not forget that the ADK is itself a highly politically-powerful company – the owner of ADK, Ahmed “ADK” Nashid is a major financial contributor to the MDP.

    What happened next?

    It must have all gotten too much for Shivdasani. When the problems with the tests became too hot to handle, he severed his partnership with ADK Hospitals and handed over the management of the lab to Crystal Medical. Interestingly, Crystal Medical is owned by Mariya Saeed, the elder sister of Dr Abdul-Malik, the Under-Secretary of the President’s Office.

    This begs the question – as Mariya Saeed and Dr. Abdul Malik are in positions whereby they can influence national health policy, would managing a lab on a commercial basis create a conflict of interest? Will the political influence of Mariya Saeed and Dr. Abdul Malik once again mean that the HPA puts the interests of the rich and powerful over its broader citizens?

    In summary, the financial support raised concerns during COVID-19 about the transparency of the relationship between the lab, ruling party members, and the HPA. It is crucial for government agencies to operate in a transparent manner to maintain public trust. The lack of transparency in this context raised suspicions about potential hidden agendas or undue influence on the decision-making process of the HPA.

    Disclaimer-India TOday99 doesn’t take the responsibility for this content. for any clarification please mail your concern 

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