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Health Ministry's measles double talk another setback for trust

Let us begin with a brief reconstruction of events. Our information gathering was, like all reporting, incremental but more than enough to show that Government’s statements on the state of measles in Samoa last week were at best powerfully understated and at worst powerfully confusing.On Monday, a one-year-old boy who had contracted a case of measles was put into a paediatric isolation ward; by Sunday afternoon he was dead. Fast forward to Thursday night. A patient was witnessed being told of a shortage of treatment spaces because 18 beds were needed to be used for isolated cases of highly suspected measles. On Wednesday, the Government disclosed – in a a most inclusive sense of the word – the extent of a looming crisis it had been warned about for at least six weeks on this newspaper’s front page (September 1 “Measles' spread to Samoa now 'inevitable': expert”).“Our current update is that there is an outbreak in Auckland New Zealand and it is continuing [to increase],” Leausa said.  “So far we have one case that they it’s confirmed but we need to have reconfirmation; an adult, a contact of a person from New Zealand.”A large number of other “suspected cases” had been sent off to Melbourne for confirmatory testing, he said in a tone devoid of urgency.In fact he said the Ministry’s to-do list included the following item: “We also have [a] plan to make a strategic plan to respond to an outbreak”.Most everything said that day was entirely factual. But why the Director General didn’t think to mention the gravely ill child thought to have been infected; and that a large section of the national hospital was reserved for quarantining more than a dozen "highly suspected" measles patients in his update on the national state of the disease most curious.Perhaps these minor details slipped his mind. But the Director General was not done.In a press conference that took an oddly jovial tone he took exception to questioning by Ms. Wilson and defamed her professional honour by suggesting she fabricated stories. Keep hold of that thought.The following day, with doctors, nurses and hospital staff acting as sources out of concern for orders from above to suppress mention of the quarantine ward, she was able to establish positive proof of its experience.The Assistant C.E.O. of the Ministry of Health, Tagaloa Dr. Robert Thomsen, who takes the professional obligation to inform the public part of his job description more literally than others confirmed: “All specified [16] cases are highly suspected [of being infected]”. Ms. Wilson’s story on the front page of the Sunday Samoan (“Sixteen suspected measles cases, Ministry awaits confirmation) blew the lid off a secret.Days later and after originally claiming it would take weeks to test for measles the Ministry said on Wednesday “A total of seven confirmed cases have been reported to date. In anticipation, we now confirm a Measles Epidemic”. One wonders absent Ms. Wilson’s story whether this statement would have ever been made.We still  aren’t told why the tests are taking so long to arrive when companies in Australia can perform them in a matter of hours; we still don’t know if there have been any new infections or admissions to the isolation ward; and we still don’t have numbers on recent vaccine rates.It is difficult to see what ends are achieved by and I attitude such as what we have seen from the most senior health official in this matter. The harms are obvious. Public mistrust of vaccinations – a growing global trend but one acutely felt in Samoa following the Savai'i fiasco.To do so while bellowing at female reporter 30 years his junior all feeds a perception that the medical elite is contemptuous of the public. This is precisely at the time, one year after one of it’s most tragic incidents, when the hospital system should be doing everything it can to rebuild trust.Perhaps a strategy document might have even been compiled some months earlier if a transparent accounting of our heath challenges has been provided.Right now Samoa is a tinder box. Measles has gripped much of the world (it’s doubled in Europe the first six months of this year alone). These epidemics are in country’s around the global average of an 85 per cent immunisation rate.  In 2017, before the Savai’i scandal, just 58 per cent of infants received M.M.R. vaccinations.If Samoa is to see off the rare scenario in which the medical profession has fallen in the eyes of the public it’s going to require outreach from people communities actually do trust.The best suggestions made recently have come in the form of enrolling village, women and church leaders to boost our vaccination rates and promote programmes. That would be a surefire way to bridge a credibility gap that is currently putting lives at risk.What do you think, Samoa??Have a good Saturday, and God bless.

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Street Talk

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Newborns being abandoned: How do we stop it?

Poutoa Polutele , 41, TufuleleThe solution is within families. The parents should have a connection with their children and they should also teach their child what to do. For the parents, if the girl gets pregnant they should not beat the girl. They should understand and talk with her, because the girl thinks that her parents might beat her and then she makes the wrong decision. It goes back to good relations.Siloi Reopoamo, 53, Saleia Savai’iI think it's very important that parents communicate with their children everyday. One of the biggest issues today is cellphones because too many children spend time on it.  For my family I talk to my kids every time and day, ever since my kids were young. That's my solution.Lina Leiataua, 64, Fa’atoiaI think the whole country should be involved in a programme to encourage girls to speak out when these things happen. We know we cannot stop so we have to be accomodating when it happens. There are also a lot of parents who cannot have children and I think there should be a programme where these children could be adopted. It's just an idea.Api Tuilo’a, 34, Safotu Savai’iOur country needs to repent and ask God for help. I cannot see any other solution unless God is involved. If girls and boys fear God, they wouldn't do what God wouldn't want them to do - and that includes abandoning babies born outside of marriage. We need to be a prayerful nation. Vaisuigi Malio, 52, Vavaai LotofagaThe issue is not new to Samoa. My solution involves families, the relationship between parents and daughter. The kids also need to understand where the parents stand on issues and why they don't want them to get pregnant. But if they do get pregnant, then the parents need to be patient and still work with their children. That's how we solve this.Le’ale’a  Mataia, 39, FalefaGirls who don't have a relationship with their parents would do this. I think that's the first part of the problem. I also think mothers need to read their daughters body language and find out what is going on. Surely there must be signs so they should not be passive. I think we need to tackle this issue as a community rather than individuals. 

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Letter to Editor

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China and developments at Mulifanua

Kevin Hart’s letter of 03 September complained about the Chinese being a likely buyer of Government’s shareholding in the Sheraton Samoa Resort at Mulifanua. Which raises the question; what is wrong with Chinese investors getting involved in tourism development in Samoa anyway especially when there isn’t much interest from elsewhere? Virtually every other country in the Pacific and the world including the US and Australia, China’s foremost critics have been enjoying the benefits of Chinese trade, investment, and tourism. So why not Samoa?Whether people like it or not, China will be a major player in the region, and it will only get worse with time for those who wish it otherwise. And in any case, one can’t do business with China as China’s critics do, and then seek to deny the Pacific Islands the same privilege by engaging in fearmongering about China’s intentions.  Samoa’s deputy prime minister called this bahaviour recently, patronizing and offensive. It is also dishonest. One would have thought that with colonialism still fresh in people’s minds, China’s detractors might have tried some more subtle way to make their case about China being a threat to Island nations. After all, these are nations that have only recently won back their own sovereignty from countries that are accusing China, a victim of colonialism itself, of malevolent intent in the Pacific.  Samoa’s prime minister made the point at the Pacific Island Forum that China is not an enemy of Samoa, which adheres to a “friend to all and enemy to none” approach to old and new comers alike to the region. The Pacific islands have legitimate economic needs and environmental interests that the former colonial powers in the Pacific have been unable to meet or in some cases totally ignored. Over the years, the Pacific Island nations have even been blamed for supposedly lagging in economic growth behind other parts of the world that receive similar levels of aid. But more recent work on the subject has confirmed what the Pacific Islands have known all along. And that is when you are small, highly fragmented and horribly isolated, your costs of attempting any form of economic activity are always going to be high no matter what you do.  China’s willingness and ability to help bridge this aid gap is welcomed therefore. It also helps that China has a different approach in its relations with the tiny and insignificant Pacific Island states and peoples. And it happens it’s an approach that the Pacific peoples themselves understand all too well and appreciate. Its an approach that recognizes the inherent dignity of peoples irrespective of colour, money and level of development. The result is that in spite of the fear mongering about China’s supposedly hidden agenda even in the face of evidence to the contrary, the Pacific Islands have seen no reason to believe this crude and offensive propaganda.  There appears to have been a notable increase lately in the number of visits by navy vessels and personnel from the US and Australia doing the usual public relations soft sell with various groups including school children. The visit on board these war machines and the helicopter rides for the children will have been the thrill of a lifetime for many. One suspects that we will be seeing more of these as the West sets out to contain the rise of Chinese influence in the region. The visits bring back to mind the colonial days of gun boat diplomacy in the Pacific when control of native populations was exercised mainly through the firepower of visiting warships when turned on native communities that failed to toe the line   Samoa’s prime minister is reported to have said recently in relation to the stepped-up competition that Samoa’s main interest and focus of diplomacy is to raise standards of living and provide for its people’s needs. In the circumstances, public relations and making friends with young people will only go so far in winning influence especially in the face of China’s hard cash. Airy catch phrases such as Step Up, (Australia), Pacific Uplift, (UK), something about Family? (US), can easily backfire. A meeting between Chinese leaders and Pacific Island leaders being hosted by Samoa in October this year should be quite an event especially at this time. It will most likely see among other things the unveiling of some new aid and trade initiative by China.   And as for Chinese interests possibly helping to bring more air services to Samoa, that too would be a welcome relief from the monopolistic practices of Air New Zealand, Virgin Airways and Fiji Airways, the three carriers that operate services in Samoa today. After being badly burnt in yet another one-sided partnership with an Australian carrier, the Samoan government did the right thing for Samoa in starting up Samoa Airways in spite of the risks and poor timing. When Polynesian Airlines started international services to New Zealand in the late 1970s, it did so mainly on the strength of Samoa’s own ethnic traffic between the two countries. The airline did well even then, until gross mismanagement grounded it with heavy losses. In spite of its inauspicious beginnings, Samoa Airways if properly managed and run, (by professionals preferably), has every chance of being the catalyst for Samoa to have the airline services it so badly needs. But it is helpful as government embarks on this to be reminded that we have been down this very road before. The lessons of history are there and must be learnt and heeded, if their repetition is to be avoided. Incidentally, as for a possible flooding of the To-Sua with tourists from China if direct charter flights were to start between China and Samoa, I have a suggestion. Make the climb down to the water even more challenging than it is now. That should encourage only the young and the brave to take the plunge. Afamasaga F ToleafoaLetava

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