NSPA for socially protected, healthy Maldivians

Maldives transitioned from a monarchy to a Republic, way back in the sixties though for a short time in the early fifties Maldivians did test a Republican feel. Although the head of the government had been a President for more than a Century now, the style, the acceptance of a supreme government had never been questioned. People were happy to provide the elite with their all. Way back in the fifties the islanders were told to send an uva kandi (lime for building) from each island. Bringing this to the then Prime Ministers were taken as favors bestowed on them and the people were happy and proud to be of service. It flowed through the ages, favors given, favors bestowed.

Such was the scenario when the National Social Protection Agency was formed and began its services in 2009. When word spread that elderly people of over 65 years were to be given MRF2000/= as a senior citizens pension, people were never even willing to even think about it. There was a shrug here and snort of disbelief there and there were some who even got angry just because they thought someone was trying to pull their leg. Then came dismissal; ‘I don’t want their charity’ attitude. And still the news persisted. By this time the people, especially the feeble and the elderly, were hearing the glad tidings on their radios and other media and still they were not able to believe that the government would give them something just because they are getting older and weaker. Most were heard to say “ Thee vaane Kameh noon” to say that is not something that will happen. These were real feisty characters, independent and hardened citizens who had born generations of hard work and were now downed by ill health or slowed by age. Still their caustic tongues could lash out with fiery epithets or with well aimed sarcasm. ‘Aharen hingaanee ekolhu kolhun or lonulai gen echeh nukaanan” meaning to say I will walk upside down or will not use salt in my food if that happens. This shows how very much they were not prepared for any personal assistance by the government unless there was an emergency.

The THING went on to happen and suddenly seniors were being given Maldivian Rufiyaa two thousand plus free medicals. Still for the lovely ladies and gentle men of yesteryears it was not something they could take seriously. It was literally money in their pockets! What most seniors initially did was, they put their money in their pockets and being the proud grandparents they were, spent it on children’s toffee and other goodies to make the children happy.

Slowly realization came. This money was something they would be getting regularly and something they can depend upon. And when realization hit, there was this flurry to register for the benefits, when before it was a lackluster effort at best. Suddenly the birth date in their national Identity Cards was a foremost matter. Questions arose, why am I only fifty when I can remember the reign of Mohamed Shamsuddeen? Where once before any date was fine as their date of birth, this was not to be when government was handing out money! Everyone wanted to be over sixty five and it was time to hunt down the island chief, the culprit who had done this to them!!!!

Most started enjoying having money at their disposal. They called their sons and daughters who spent money on them and told them proudly that they now can manage on a day to day basis. Suddenly old parents left behind in the islands, when families came to Male’ for education and others, were called back and brought to Male’, because a father and mother jointly can contribute 4000 rufiyas towards the exorbitant rents they were paying. Some who were lucky enough to live with affluent children, saved and were proud of their savings account. Some saved towards their lifelong dream of going to Haj or Umrah while some gave to their struggling families, a contribution they can now make and be an asset to the family instead of a liability however much they were loved.

For too long the old and the feeble had been neglected, not because the families didn’t care, but because most couldn’t afford having parents admitted to hospitals for long periods of time or do the tests that were required. And so when someone is bedridden or paralyzed they remained at home and were looked after the family as best as they could but the best mostly results in unintentional neglect.

Today however, these old and feeble persons come to hospitals and have the best care at no cost to them. The NSPA program covers health insurance for the 65 aged and above. From far and near the sick and old were brought to the government hospital and pretty soon the wards started filling with old and bedridden, straining the already stretched capacity of the hospital. It became easy to leave a parent at the hospital till they die because they were already too old and bedridden to leave their beds. But for some of the old and sick it was a privilege they seldom get, the crisp white sheets and the nurses in white attending to them as they were worthy of being looked after.

Today, NSPA has programs to include single parent allowance, giving single parents some assistance towards alleviating the burden of bringing up children on their own. In May 2010, foster parents also came under the NSPA wing, encouraging people to take on and care for orphans with some assistance from NSPA. Their programs, MADANA and MADANA PLUS contribute some percentage towards health insurance to all. More specially, the children and people with special needs are also embraced in their program.

The welfare programs have given the needy a sense of their self worth. The older generation now walks with their heads held a bit high knowing they have some money of their own and a certainty that they can obtain medical assistance without much heart wrenching. For the single parents it is a lessening of pressure in their lives, however small the contribution was from welfare.

For the fulfillment of NSPA’s vision of a model society of socially protected, healthy individuals, the first step had been taken and it had been accepted, though with caution and diffidence. Very slowly people are beginning to believe in themselves, and believe that the government also has an obligation towards the less fortunate in the society.