The World Bank-M.O.H. partnership, but first avert strike action

It is always good to start off the week with good news.

The Government through the Ministry of Health (M.O.H.) and the World Bank are finalizing plans to deploy multidisciplinary medical teams to be stationed permanently in district hospitals.

It is good news for Samoa’s rural population, especially villages that are far from the capital Apia, and rely on the district hospitals for health services. 

Interim M.O.H. Director General, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri, told the Samoa Observer in a recent interview that they are working with the World Bank. 

“And part of Ministry of Health's strategy is that we now have a coordinated Division of Public Health, where all community health centers all over district hospitals will be under.

“One of the requirements, we are now teaming up with World Bank in the project, is to have multidisciplinary teams to man the district hospitals and this will include a doctor, nurse, district health nurse, midwife and environmental health – they will stay permanently and contracted to run the hospital.

“We are working on it now, and we are very grateful to the World Bank for offering their assistance, through the staffing and start off and also with the infrastructure. We are hoping this change will begin this year,” he said.

The revelation of the Ministry of Health–World Bank partnership would be particularly pleasing for mother Fuatai Vaea Tupuola from Siumu on the south coast of Upolu, who alleged that the lack of doctors in a district hospital resulted in her baby's misdiagnosis.

The story titled “Lack of doctors led to baby's misdiagnosis - mother alleges” – which was published in the April 25, 2019 edition of the Samoa Observer – was also disputed by Leausa when he revealed the joint working partnership with the World Bank.

“If you look at the history, it has been such a long time since there were no doctors in district hospitals. We have been trying to contract doctors to go once or twice a week, but they don’t stay there they come back so maybe these cases happen in the weekend.

“In my own opinion there was no misdiagnosis, the nurses have done their job at the best of their capabilities which was not a misdiagnosis, and it was just a case where the patient could not respond to the oral antibiotic treatment.

“Pneumonia is not something that happens acutely it builds up slowly," he added.

Leausa, as a Medical Officer and interim M.O.H. Director General is the chief health advisor to the Government, and we don’t intend to question his expertise when it comes to patient care in hospitals.

However, we do know for a fact that on the day that Fuatai took her baby to the Poutasi District Hospital, there were no Medical Officers on duty and only nurses were able to attend to her child. We cannot blame her for sounding out the absence of doctors – through the pages of your daily newspaper – at the end of the day, Samoans want the best medical expertise on offer.

Nonetheless, the news of the Ministry of Health–World Bank partnership is a positive development, and when in place will go a long way in ensuring satisfactory health outcomes for the country.

And while we look forward to the official announcement of the launching of the Ministry of Health–World Bank partnership, we cannot ignore the plea by the Medical Council for the Government to increase the salaries of its national doctors.

Chairman of the Samoa Medical Council, Motuopua’a Dr. Aisoli Va'ai, has warned that strike action could be the last resort in a bid to give doctors working at the National Hospital a salary increase.

With the announcement of the the Ministry of Health–World Bank partnership by Leausa, we wonder whether any industrial action by national doctors could throw the spanner in the works of such an important partnership?

It would be self-defeating for the Government to begin work with a donor partner on a health care program — which over the long-term would deliver improved health outcomes for Samoa — when the very people who will be tasked to implement it are overworked and underpaid.

Motuopua’a, in his interview with this newspaper, did a brief comparative analysis of doctors’ starting salaries in New Zealand and Samoa. And if it is true that national doctors’ starting salaries in Samoa are $30,000 per annum, then this is just plain ridiculous for a professional who spends close to 10 years of training in order to be in a position to save lives!

We cannot afford to gamble with the lives of the people. It is time for the Government, the Medical Council and the national doctors to sit on the same table to begin talks to look for a way forward.

Have a lovely Monday Samoa and God bless. 

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