Amid row with India, Maldives turns to Sri Lanka for medical evacuation support

Maldivian Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation Mohamed Ameen met his Sri Lankan counterpart Nimal Siripala de Silva in Colombo on Tuesday, and said on social media platform ‘X’, that Sri Lanka has agreed to help the Maldives with medical evacuation.

January 31, 2024 12:22 pm | Updated 02:50 pm IST - COLOMBO

Maldivian Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation Mohamed Ameen (right) with his Sri Lankan counterpart Nimal Siripala de Silva in Colombo on January 30, 2024. Photo: X/@ameen3d

Maldivian Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation Mohamed Ameen (right) with his Sri Lankan counterpart Nimal Siripala de Silva in Colombo on January 30, 2024. Photo: X/@ameen3d

Maldives has sought Sri Lanka’s assistance in medical evacuation services — mainly to transport patients to Colombo in air ambulances — amid a persisting strain with India.

Maldivian Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation Mohamed Ameen met his Sri Lankan counterpart Nimal Siripala de Silva in Colombo on Tuesday, and said on social media platform ‘X’, that Sri Lanka has agreed to help the Maldives with medical evacuation. “We have specifically agreed upon creating a framework for immediate approval process between Maldives and Sri Lanka on urgent requirements, specifically on med-evac flights,” Mr. Ameen said in his post.

Also Read | Choppy waters: On India-Maldives ties 

“They [Maldives] will use their air ambulances, this is to help keep this channel open and easy for any emergency medical treatment that Maldivians might need in Sri Lanka,” Mr. de Silva told The Hindu Wednesday morning.  Sri Lanka and India are among the Maldives’s closest neighbours, and Maldivians have always had close ties in Colombo, a city they frequent.

The development comes amid President Mohamed Muizzu’s apparent efforts to expand and diversify the island nation’s partnerships in medical evacuation. In December, he announced setting up an air ambulance service beginning March 2024, and said it could help patients travel as far as Thailand. The need for prompt medical evacuation came into sharp focus earlier in January, when a Maldivian teenager died, reportedly owing to a delay in evacuation for emergency treatment.

Also Read | A change for the worse: On the rapid decline in India-Maldives ties 

Mr. Muizzu’s efforts also assume significance at a time when Male and New Delhi grapple with strained ties, following controversial remarks made by Maldivian Ministers targeting India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and a “Boycott Maldives” social media campaign in India.

India’s two naval choppers and a Dornier aircraft stationed in the Maldives have been involved in more than 600 medical evacuations — often from the atolls to capital Male —, search and rescue operations in the last five years, according to official sources in Male.  Mr. Muizzu has set a March 15 deadline for New Delhi to withdraw its nearly 80 soldiers stationed in the country. New Delhi has said they were posted there chiefly to operate and maintain the helicopters and the aircraft.  

Further, India is the most popular destination among Maldivians seeking medical care overseas. “Aa Sandha”, the government’s universal health insurance scheme launched over a decade ago, has dozens of Indian hospitals empanelled, for Maldivians to access varied medical treatment.

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