Health merger: A brave move or an epic fail?

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

There are two ways one can interpret the latest developments at the public Health sector detailed in a story titled “Govt. Health vision” on the front page of the Samoa Observer on Monday.

The first pair of lens can see that the government is learning as they go along and that the merger between the National Health Services (N.H.S.) and Ministry of Health (M.O.H.) reflects a government that is not afraid to make tough decisions when it has to. That’s the good news.

The second pair of lens would be a lot more brutal, which is the bad news. It could easily see that the merger done 10 years ago has been an epic fail and the decision is part of a desperate attempt to avert what is ultimately going to be a disaster of huge proportions if this continues.

Whichever lens you choose and whatever view you subscribe to, the fact of the matter is that all is not well at the Ministry of Health. 

Why would they want such a drastic change if everything were all roses? You don’t need to be a super intelligent person to see that, do you?

Come to think of it, it would be interesting to find out who the consultant was – or the team of consultants – who recommended such a merger in the first place.

It would be equally interesting to know what they said, why they recommended the move and how much they were paid. 

Now ten years down the line, what has changed? What are the drivers of those changes? And in the case where monies and resources have been wasted, who should be held accountable? As for the failure, well we don’t have to look far.

Regardless of what advice it was fed at the time, the decision came down to what the government wanted. Would it be unfair to say that it’s just another one of this present administration’s long list of screw-ups costing poor taxpayers too much money?

The good news is that the government is moving to change it by bringing back the public Health sector under one umbrella.

And boy we hope they can get it right this time around. We need to because judging from where we stand, while we have made some progress in terms of advancing medical facilities and other critical areas, there is much to desired about the delivery of health services in this country. That’s not to mention the chronic shortage of health workers – nurses and doctors included – and the lack of key personnel to operate some of the machineries and equipment we have available here.

Looking at the state of the nation’s health, it is even more worrying today – than it was 10 years ago. The wave of non communicable diseases grows by the day so that you really have to wonder what on earth is going on. We can go on but you get our drift, don’t you?

We commend the Minister of Health, Tuitama Dr. Tuitama for being frank about the merger when he spoke to the Samoa Observer at the beginning of the week. It takes courage to be frank and upfront about the challenges.

Tuitama said the merger should strengthen the ability for health professionals to provide improved health care services. He added that it will also focus finances on services as opposed to the current situation where the “total expenditure for health is about 80 percent personnel and 20 percent on services.”

Ladies and gentlemen, that is a shocking statistic. No wonder members of the public complain.

In any case, the Minister acknowledged the move to separate the two entities 10 years ago was not achieving the goals they had envisioned. One of the main concerns was that there was no cohesion or collaboration between the M.O.H. and N.H.S.

“An example was that the N.H.S. was carrying out activities that were contradictory to the advice of the M.O.H.,” Tuitama said. “This was not in accordance with the mandates and also that consultation needed to be carried out before such actions are taken. It affects the health of the whole nation.”

We encourage you, our readers, to read Tuitama’s interview in full when you find the time. He makes some very interesting and valid points.

But we want to end this piece with the Minister’s own words. At the end of the day, he said decisions come down to the “health of the whole nation.”

And how is the “health of the whole nation” today? Tell us what you think!

Have a wonderful Wednesday Samoa, God bless!

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