April 7, 2019

World Health Day 2019: getting health care to the other half


Today is the global health day. Each year, April 7 is when the world celebrates its Health Day. Every year the World Health Organisation draws our attention to a weakness in our health systems as a wake up call towards health. This year it’s that nagging issue of the still dire lack of health care coverage for much of the world. Half the world's population even in this day and age lack the resources to do so. Not because they can’t but because their health systems have not been planned to do so.

Forty years ago in Alma Ata in Kazakhstan, WHO and UNICEF got together at a historic meeting to introduce Primary Health Care to the world as an approach for attaining Health for All by the year 2000. It was about affordable and culturally acceptable appropriate technology spearheading the access to health care into a movement. And it did wonders to demystify medical care and provide an alternative that was a less costly, yet effective care that revolutionised the movement for health all over the world.

Maldives was a clear beneficiary of this and our present national health situation could be unequivocally attributed to the dedicated application of the principles of primary health care in their essence. The community health workers and their dedicated effort on prevention rather than cure pushed down an outrageous national IMR of 150 per 1000 in 1975 to just about 30 per 1000 in the next 20 years in a context of no doctor present. These PHC’s unsung heroes gave their life for this cause and a nation benefited. No more childhood diseases, no scary diarrheas, no leprosy or malaria and even TB was driven to a level that was no more a public health problem.

Today however the NCDs have taken over and instead of the health centres of yore we now have gleaming hospitals to take care of the sick. It is time for us to give another lease to the idea of prevention. The young people now succumbing to cancers and heart diseases and diabetes can’t be addressed by treating these when they show up as disease but before they have a chance to show themselves as diseases. And that is through prevention. 

But this can only happen when we ride our motorcycles a bit less each day, desist from eating all that junk food and crushing out those nasty cigarette packs that fool the youth generation after generation. I tell them it’s not cool to smoke and not exercise and gorge on these fast foods. But one voice is not enough; we need a resurgent voice in unison and attendant rules and regulations that are enforced; we need schools and homes that nurture healthy habits and a community that pulls together for the perpetuation of thee good habits. All this requires effort at the community level. Simple yet effective prevention and advocacy that is the essence of primary health care.

Yet again it’s time for PHC to be revived and reapplied. It’s truly a timeless concept and kudos to WHO for bringing this into view again. Yet,  blessed as we are with universal coverage in Maldives, we need to be mindful of not being wasteful in using this blessing and supplement it with the good habits that will make our body smile and say “if you look after me for the first 50 years, I will look after you for the next 50”.

March 31, 2019

Why a political party? Can’t we do without it?


This is the season for jumping ship again as the majlis elections season throws up its festivities. I wrote about this ways back in this blog. But I guess this has to be revisited. Why a Political Party in a democratic process in the first place?  It is for including diverse views of society. After all democracy is all about discussion and consultation and compromise as we all know. If we didn't have parties we wouldn’t have the minorities and life’s dissenting views and social sensibilities included into the discussions as inclusively as we want these to be. Having such discussions widen the net of social concerns beyond just the concerns of the rich and powerful. It gives voice to the minorities, the disenfranchised and to the voiceless of the masses. When banded together they have their voice in a party. This about implementing the idea of unity is strength; that of brining a divided society together. 

But let’s also look at where parties have true relevance! What comes quickly into mind is inclusiveness of views, and that Parties have greatest relevance for nations that have egalitarian and sectarian divides; those with a diversity of sensibilities. Large nations that are melting pots of many cultures and ethnic diversity and even ideologies and social sensibilities need a way to have their voice at the table. And so here the party finds its true relevance. But in nations that are homogenous across culture, language, religion, ethnic origins, social sensibilities, and geographical settings don’t have to divide itself into parties just because this model of Western representative liberal democracy has in it their process of implementing it.

When we look closely at the features of our local parties we have nothing to celebrate such as a specific aspect of diversity or social sensibility. Our parties are, it is sad to say, a band of people being led by the rich and powerful, seeking pride of position or financial gain from winning the race to the top. Just reflect on the the parties we have. I don’t witness any party with a rallying ideology that draws people to it because they value that social edict or national goal or an ideology to guide life by. These are more akin to gangs members who will stay with the monied leader as long as they have the money and power to dispense. The moment the leader falls they would disperse to find another  godfather. So senseless has been the birth of democracy in our nation. Just think about it! Just imagine if these leaders, by some quirk of nature don’t cease to be. What will happen to the Party? Will any of these Parties that we have today continue to function in the strength that it is doing now? It’s not difficult to imagine the result. It will fall apart and disintegrate; unless the Party leadership that is in the shadows of the leader revives and rebrands it with an attractive ideology. That charisma, or the money, or the social power that the ex-leader had would not in most instances be available as a rallying song for members.  Bu with an existing ideology, those who did support that ideology would perhaps stay on. That would be the true way  Parties forge into the future.

But then do we, in Maldives, have such polemic ideologies that impel us to lead such advocacies? The concerns of environment, liberal or conservative agendas, business models or the types of prevailing government models we want, liberal socialist or communist, religious affiliations or ethnic sensibilities are strong ideals people are attracted to. If we care to employ them as our thrust, then parties will have meaning and a purpose for people to rally to. But in Maldives where are those pressing demands that need attention? If there were, we would have been clamouring for it already. Not rallying round the rich and padded in the hope of catching a morsel they throw at us. This is shameful some would say. Yet others would argue that the very basic needs that we need satisfied is not available to us; so why not for this moment “accept the fish that they throw at us; and later think of learning to fish”. That is also understandable. But in a nation that is booming in business and the attendant income, do we have to be jumping around to grab the notes that are thrown at us rather than striving to do an honest job or start a business to earn some honest money to have those three square meals, respectable clothing and safe shelter? Not sell our soul to the devil in these shameless behaviours. Do we have any respectfulness we want to model to our children? Or do we really want our children also to be just rowdies like us?

But I also think in a different line. Maybe we have not introduced democracy in its right image - as a way of giving voice to a voiceless public. For them to become aware that a nation is the complement of all the people in it; that the nation exists for its people not for its leaders. In the new independent setting the world moves now (in contrast to the despotic or totalitarian contexts it used to before and even from our colonial times) the difference must be celebrated. And that is in the awareness that the people have been liberated from the shackles of bondage and they don’t need to be bonded yet again by their own local Masters. It is for the people to realise this and give four or five year terms to their servant leaders to manage the land in the best way for the people to feel safe and settled and happy.

But we don’t see this happening. As the saying goes “ the oppressed knows only the ways of the oppressor. So when the oppressed come to power they use the same tools they know to govern - that of the oppressor”. Perhaps that is what we see in our nation too. The same oppressive ways being promoted. The same rallying round the rich and the powerful. It is the replay of the tribal culture we wanted to leave behind. The rich and the powerful love the tribal culture and the concept of a cult because that is how they get their hype their high or their purpose fulfilled. And unless the public knows the real purpose of democracy (that they are the ones to call the shots) the powerful will always dominate.

Our minds that have been moulded into this subservient model of character won’t just go away unless we are truly and mindfully and lovingly nurtured out of it. This of course can’t happen because those in power will not allow it. We have not had the urgency and the pain of a birth into democracy as in many of the Western countries and some in our regions too — they fought civil wars and endured great pain, social strife, loss of loved ones, and enduring fear to get to the taste of democracy. That too maybe waning now even in the West, because many generations have passed to wash away those memories. In contrast, for us in Maldives, we were given our democracy on a silver platter without us lifting a finger to earn it. It was like a gift given to us not because the colonial master had to but because they wanted to. The British empire was dismantling their hold in the world anyway for reasons of necessity. And so we too got our share of “freedom”; but then, to be bonded yet again --- to the neocolonialism of our own local masters.

So we were not introduced to this liberational model of democracy but to a bonded one. We feel we are free but we are as much in chains as we have ever been; because our minds don't comprehend the essence of democracy  When I ask anyone of many who are the ordinary people in Maldive as to what is democracy, their response is a confused one. “We have the freedom to do what we want”. It’s as if living the ‘NIke line “just do it”. This is not democracy to do whatever we want. Young people know the line that Spiderman’s uncle uttered as he died. “With power comes great responsibility”. We know this intellectually but we have not put it still into our hearts that with the power of freedom that democracy bestows, we need an equal amount or even more of responsibility invested to maintain that democracy. And who is it that needs to think responsibly and  act responsibly to maintain their house in order but us the citizens of Maldives? It is us the people of our nation. It is not an outside force that will occupy us now forcefully and visibly. It is our own rich and powerful who will. For wealth and power is sought by people not to for safekeeping in a bank locker. But to exercise it. And that exercise will be on a hapless and unaware public.

This is the scene that is playing out in our country. We the people refuse to take responsibility for our freedom. Perhaps we don’t value it. And as all gifts we get that didn’t require our effort to earn, we just let these go to rust or decay or just get tired of it. That is why we don’t think twice about selling our votes or just forget and let the atrocities created by the previous government go by because perhaps it’s in this situation that more mischief can be played by the incoming local leaders too and the nation to be milked yet again. Should this go on? Do we let this happen without even mentioning with sadness and regret? Or should such utterances be the noises we make in our cursory get together in a coffee shop or in a homely dinner table conversation? I also wonder if our polity is aware that selling votes is a bad thing?  Perhaps they don’t. Perhaps they feel it’s their right to do so. After all, this is the best chance in five years that they can have the benefit of a national redistribution of wealth. Why worry if the method is nefarious. We don’t even perhaps know if it is.

Then there is the policy of doling out government money to parties to function. In a presidential form of government parties don’t get money to spend for their party promotion and campaigns. This is what is practiced in a parliamentary democracy. So we are also in a confused and mixed up democratic method; and it’s making hay time because the public don't even know about it.  But the fact that money is being given by the government to the parties,  the prevailing thought for those who would like a part of the pie is why not have as many more parties as we can muster? Why not register another party for getting this money? And the public viewpoint must also be that this money is given for distribution. So why not give allegiance to those other parties who are getting established so that we can get some money from it. It seems a scam of a way to inveigle money from those needing the support. Thus, in the light of this perception of our public mind, this jumping ship mentality is not quite unfounded given our ignorance of the democratic method.

Most dangerous than all these money dishing out is the senseless political division we observe also in our little nation. Every party divides our community into further separation and separation doesn’t bring harmony as we all know. Separation foments conflict. That is what the colonial masters did in their occupation of our lands. They divided and ruled. This is what I mean by we employing the same means as the oppressor. We are oppressing our own people by dividing our nation into senseless divisions. Even as the colonial masters are laughing at us for our folly, they are also invading our nation with their neo-colonialism of culture. We are even blind to this as our minds are focused in our frenzy to grab that fistful of money by rallying around our rich and powerful. And to be like out colonial masters in our ways too, We are blind to the fact that our society is being eaten alive from within our communities by the insidious osmosis of alien values in the name of globalisation and the wonders of a connected world we know as the “social media”.  Aren’t we just going the way of the “parable of the boiling frog” where he died being boiled in the can even without his own realisation that this was happening? 

March 23, 2019

Parties without ideals


People get together for a purpose. Even a casual social group like coffee friends getting together has a purpose of keeping social connections of one sort or another. Families, the building blocks of society, each in their unique ways have their unique objectives. Thus overall, even society which is the confluence of human beings would have specific objectives if that community is worth its salt.

Now, this should be the case for our political parties too. While each in our case in Maldives has its defining name, none however has an ideal that is linked to it that separates one from the other. Without this I wonder what it is that draws people to these groupings. There is nothing of an existential, environmental, economic, social or spiritual ideal that it calls for. The only commonality in our cases is that each is headed by someone gung-ho on being president of the country. So what is it that rallies people around them? Surely not a social one because in the first instance the leader is flaunting a selfish ideal so those around such a leader can’t be with god fearing ideals. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that such relationships of party membership would be steeped in selfish gain. And it’s evident from the merry-go-round membership we see in the way members jump ship from one regime change to another. I guess we are doomed to dance to this tamasha as long as this type of leadership continues to be in public vogue.

Society can’t progress without guiding inspiration. Least of this is embodied in the economic. When it is, It is the groping for the world. Yearning to play the accumulation game which will never end in any sense of satisfaction. Our greed and avarice and resulting competition and resentment will only tear a society apart; most profess that it is just what is happening in our little country. While this is evident, also starkly evident is the total absence of the intellectual and voices of conscience in our nation. All we see and hear on the social and other media are malevolent exchanges of invective that do nothing for social harmony. 

Perhaps that is what the divide-and-rule paradigm that our colonial masters left for us and we lap it up with glee as we too begin a process of neo-colonization perpetrated by our own despots. Yes, the oppressed learn only the ways of the oppressor. So they work with what they know. The despot knows nothing of compassion. Perhaps this intellectual and moral social entity is not even allowed to surface; and they understandably are not ready for the fight; too sensible to risk the lives of their loved ones by allowing being taken away in the middle of the night for no reason at all. And they could well languish in shackles without trial and no one would care too hoots for their voice. Perhaps they would even receive blame for speaking out when they did. Why can’t you just stay quiet and do your own thing and let us do ours. You will also get the chance (if you join us) to milk the cow. This is the fear that engulfs this beautiful paradise of ours; just because some people want to inveigle the post of president or perhaps as we hear, the leadership in a future avatar of a political regime.

If we want a stable Maldives we need to first wake up to the tricks the Great Deceiver is playing with us to divide us and keep us bickering and hateful. No sensible discussion can take place in such a chaotic milieu. Look, there is enough for everyone's need; but sadly never enough for everyone’s greed.  So said the Mahatma.  Our beloved Islam also reminds us constantly to the foolishness of accumulation. Just glance through the short yet powerful Surah al-Thakathur. Yes before we know it we will be at the brink of our graves. What will all this wealth be worth? Can we take even a cent with us? Yes the Great Deceiver never lets us have time to think; he just keeps us busy thinking about the world and its glittering opportunities. Or to the endearment of heedless laze. And finally he will abandon us. And blame our misfortune squarely on us. There will be no place then to go.

I would conclude with a thought, while perhaps extremely polemic for now, but that which will show prescient wisdom when the doom is truly in sight. Our Islam says “don’t divide yourselves. Be whole and united; hold on to the rope of Allah”. These supreme words are to be trumped by our arrogance and hubris? As Muslims we can’t attest to the inverse.  Yes we don’t need these political parties! The identity politics this method of implementing democracy is killing our very soul. Let’s get back to being one! It is in this oneness that our success now and in the Hereafter resides.


March 9, 2019

Is it Me or my Maker?


Many of us have been brought up in the modern era to believe we can do anything we want. Try and you will succeed. Perseverance is the key to success. All this is true; we achieve when we try and sometimes even with struggle. The genesis of this emotion may be that hackneyed yet wise saying we have known from childhood “Necessity is the mother of invention”. This is the way of the world. We get what we seek and we seek when our situation necessitates it in some way or the other. If we don't try we don't get it.

But what we seem to forget is that we get something because someone gives it. It can be a toy we wish for, good grades in exams, a job that we wanted, beautiful clothes, a virtuous spouse or wealth beyond our dreams are all given by someone. It may be a parent, the teacher, the shop merchant, the willing parents of the spouse, or even the stock market. There is always a giver. But as we revel in the joy of our achievement our shortsightedness keeps us tethered at best to the causes mired in the mundane only. Our thoughts cannot move beyond to know that everything is related to everything else. At the worldly level we have the idea of ecology and the environmentalist quip that “ the flutter of a butterfly in Rio affects the weather in China”. We must know that this chain of events carries even further - to our Maker. This is the ultimate source that guides this whole string of causes. For many of us Allah seems so remote because our mind is set in this world mostly and correctly so, given our human foibles. This is our primeval plight. But it's our destiny to move from the primeval being to the lofty heights of spiritual enlightenment. Everyone of us human beings has the potential to rise to these heights but we have also been given the choice to do as we please; but not without consequences. Even our worldly systems so remind us to not trespass the bounds of law and when we do, we do have to pay. Allah's judgment is ever more fair and just beyond our imagination. That assurance is there; no bias or favour beyond what is deserved.

It's a blessing for us then to be aware of this final link that the giver is indeed Allah. He is not remote as we may think in our state of ignorance. He is close at hand and ready to listen to our asking and to help us in anything we ask for. Ask and you will be given. It's not the Universe itself that is working to give it to us but it's the universe with the permission of Allah that fulfils our supplications; it is that organising power that is behind the workings of the Universe. When we understand, believe and accept this truth in our heart and then ask Allah, our lives will change and joy will prevail.