The importance of a coronial inquiry to saving lives

Last Friday the Acting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Vui Clarence Nelson, sentenced nurses Luse Emo Tauvale and Leutogi Te’o to five years imprisonment for negligence causing manslaughter.

The Court found that their actions lead to the deaths of two one-year-old infants Lannah Samuelu and Lameko Siu in July last year. 

There were emotional scenes outside the courtroom as the reality of the Acting Chief Justice’s decision sunk in, for the two jailed nurses as well as the families of the two deceased babies. 

The intent of the Court, in the decision that was handed down last Friday, was clear – children are vulnerable members of the community and should be protected.

“Children are of the vulnerable groups in any society; it is therefore incumbent that society takes particular care when it comes to [their] treatment, health and wellbeing," Justice Vui said in his sentencing remarks. 

“In this case the defendants completely and utterly failed."

The Acting Chief Justice went further and ordered that a coronial inquiry is done into the deaths, and added that public confidence in the Government’s vaccination programme should be restored as it is critically important for the health of young children.

District Court Judge Alalatoa Rosella Papali’i will oversee the inquest into the two deaths in July last year. 

“It is hoped [that] the coronial inquiry and also comments in the sentencing of the court will reassure the mothers and everyone else, the reasons for the death of the young children is not the vaccine but the negligent [manner] in which it was administered by these two women (Luse Emo Tauvale and Leutogi Te’o)," he said last Friday. 

We welcome the announcement of the establishment of a coronial inquiry, and must commend the Acting Chief Justice for having the foresight, to be concerned at the potential damage that this particular case will have on the future of the country’s vaccination programme.

Justice Vui did not hesitate telling the Court of his worries last Friday, before sentencing the two nurses to five years imprisonment.

“And in our country the medical authorities also face this problem, this incident has led to both mothers refusing to vaccinate their other children, something which is quite understandable, but it makes their children vulnerable to many crippling and dangerous diseases," he said.

“The defendant’s actions have eroded the confidence of these mothers in vaccinations. It is something that can easily spread to other mothers and put at risk the entire vaccination program and the children of our society as a whole."

This case has, unfortunately, also opened the door for the anti-vaxxer (anti-vaccination) movement. Australian blogger Taylor Winterstein, who is married to Penrith Panthers-contracted Samoan rugby league star Frank and has publicly campaigned against vaccines, was due in Apia in June this year but cancelled the trip and the seminar she planned to run following public backlash.

In April this year the US-based CNN quoted experts working for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expressing concern that anti-vaccination activists are winning the war on social media. 

With the increasing uptake of smartphones in Samoa and the growing popularity of social media platforms such as Facebook, the dangers of our people being misled by anti-vaxxers remains at an all time. In fact anti-vaccination stories – which we published this year focused on Mrs Winterstein – attracted comments including support by Samoans.

Therefore, the decision by Justice Vui to establish a coronial inquiry into the two deaths, will also go a long way in addressing the misinformation that is being spread online by the anti-vaccination movement. 

The Acting Chief Justice said: “The defendant’s actions have eroded the confidence of these mothers in vaccinations. It is something that can easily spread to other mothers and put at risk the entire vaccination program and the children of our society as a whole."

And with the age of fake news now upon us in Samoa and the Pacific Islands, we must work extra hard to ensure our people are not misinformed, and make decisions for their children that will put their lives and future in jeopardy.

We look forward to health experts appearing before the inquiry, to point out that it was human error that led to the deaths of the two infants, and not the MMR vaccine that today continues to save millions of childrens' lives around the world.

Have a lovely Tuesday Samoa and God bless. 

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