General Practitioners ease the burden

At least 20 general practitioners have been added to the public health roster as the measles epidemic continues and medical care is required around the clock.

The death toll has climbed to 33 and cases have hit 2,686 as of Wednesday afternoon. There are nearly 200 people hospitalised currently with measles, making up two thirds of Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital patients.

For a week and a half, Samoa’s General Practitioners have been one and the same with the public health staff, helping wherever they can, Association President Le Mamea Dr. Limbo Fiu has said.

There are private doctors stationed in the paediatric and measles wards, in the general medical unit and even in the emergency operations centre helping manage the response.

Others have been dispersed across the country’s district hospitals.

Le Mamea said the doctors worked coordination with the Director General of Health Leausa Dr. Take Naseri to get rostered into the areas with the most need.

“We anticipate this to go on for quite some time,” he said. The private doctors will remain working with the public sector until the measles epidemic emergency has subsided.

As well as joining public health, each doctor and their clinic have adjusted to meet the nation’s needs.

In the wake of the epidemic, the Ministry of Health encouraged anyone not sick with measles to use the private medical system, and ease up the pressure on the public hospitals.

 “We are seeing a lot of people who would normally go to the hospital and a lot of us have increased our opening hours, up to 8pm in some of the clinics, and in the weekends including Sundays to accommodate increased numbers,” Le Mamea said.

As well as increasing work hours, many clinics have dropped their consultation prices to match the hospital fee of close to $10, to allow patients who need follow up care from the specialist hospital wards to access it.

Several doctors are also on call at all hours of the night, should anyone require more help.

“We are doing it for our people and our colleagues who are overworked at this moment,” Le Mamea said.

He said the national mass vaccination campaign will eventually halt the rising cases of the highly contagious virus, which has no cure.

He anticipates there will be a change in the figures within a few weeks.

“I was very happy this morning, I was woken up when a van arrived, going around with a microphone to all the families,” said Le Mamea of the mobile vaccination units.

“It’s great to see, it’s very encouraging. This is exactly what needs to be done, you need to get out to the community…  there are people who cannot access immunisation services for one reason or another and sometimes it is not having the resources to get to the hospital.

“This outreach service is fantastic at this time to get to those vulnerable groups so they can get the injections right there where they live.”

According to a study published in the Lancet in August, Samoa has just five physicians for every 10,000 people, and 15 nurses – approximately 100 doctors and nearly 300 nurses.

During this epidemic, it has seen a boost of nearly 100 medical professionals from New Zealand, Australia, Tahiti, the Red Cross Society and the World Health Organisation.

Having extra Samoan doctors, some of which have worked in the country’s public health system before, is a big help.

Le Mamea said even before the emergency declaration, the Leausa had put out a call to private doctors to please volunteer after clinic hours at the main hospital, which was well met.

None of the volunteer hours have been compensated and at this stage, he is not concerned about it.

The workload has been immense, and emotionally tough, Le Mamea said.

“Some of our staff on the weekend worked in the special Acute Primary Care Clinic measles ward the hospital set up and it’s been chock-a-block with people.

“I don’t see this peaking yet.”

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