Samoan doctors homeward bound for love of country
A massive group of 40 Samoan doctors are heading to Samoa from New Zealand and Australia to work for two week stints until the end of March next year.
Rallied by the Samoan Doctors Worldwide volunteer service, the Pacific Islands Mental Health Professionals Association (P.I.M.H.P.A.) and the University of Otago, the volunteers will come in groups for two weeks each for the next three months, starting from December 23.
University of Otago’s Associate Dean of Pacific Health Sciences Faumuina Faafetai Sopoaga was in Samoa last month when Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi asked health professionals to join Samoa’s fight against measles.
She worked with the President of P.I.M.H.P.A. Leota Dr. Lisi Petaia, who alongside Fuimaono Karl Pulotu Endemann led the Samoan medical mental health response team after the 2009 Tsunami.
Faumuina said all the doctors are fluent Samoan speakers and familiar with the fa’aSamoa (Samoan way) which will make their transition into the Ministry of Health system smooth.
“In addition to responding to the measles epidemic, there are the usual medical and surgical illnesses that need attending to. Our Samoan volunteer medical doctors will be working in different areas ranging from surgical, medical, and general practice work.”
“For now, the priority is for acute care and for clinicians from outside Samoa to relieve their local colleagues so they can rest and be with their family and loved ones around the Christmas period,” she says.
Eventually, the focus will turn to the mental health and wellbeing support, she added. Faumuina, a primary care and public health physician, was involved in the development of Samoa’s School of Medicine.
At least half the deployment were trained at the University of Otago. They are specialised in a “range” of areas, including surgery, medicine, paediatrics, public health, general practice and intensive care.
“Our engagement will be for an extended period due to the nature of the situation. We are in this for long haul. These are our families who are affected,” Leota, Samoa’s first psychiatrist said.
They are being guided on the ground by University of Otago Pacific Regional Coordinator Frances Brebner, who was once the Registrar for the Ministry of Health in Samoa.
“Her connections and understanding of local processes is vital considering the complexity of the situation,” Leota said.
The doctors will stay at Otago House in the National University of Samoa, which will also be their coordination hub.
Some of the volunteers are funding their own travel to and from Samoa.
There are 130 doctors of Samoan descent registered in New Zealand, and many more registering from Australia. Nurses and mental health professionals are also looking to mobilise a mission to Samoa.
President of the General Practitioners Association of Samoa Le Mamea Dr. Limbo Fiu said the deployment of such a large group of doctors is a fantastic initiative, especially that they are all Samoan.
“We still require a lot of help on the ground, particularly in the paediatric and emergency departments,” he said.
“Doctors here have been working flat out. This will be a welcome assistance, especially in the short term so our doctors can have a rest around Christmas time.”
He said he hopes some of the doctors will also be deployed to Savaii, where there are very few doctors tending to a lot of very widely spread out people.
That the doctors will continue arriving until the end of March next year is also very welcome, Le Mamea said. Despite the mass vaccination campaign that claims to have covered 90 per cent of the population, he said Samoa is “not out of the woods yet.
“We must not rest on our laurels, and continue vaccinating everyone who has not yet accessed vaccination, especially those vulnerable groups,” Le Mamea said.
“There is a lot of work still to be done, though I hope to see a slow down next month.”