Norway’s Samoa deployment a first

Samoa is the first country to receive support from a travelling Norwegian Emergency Medical Team, whose inaugural deployment is to help contain the measles epidemic and treat its victims.

The team of 20 came to Samoa's aid with just 48 hours' notice, or enough time to request leave from work or tell loved ones they would not be home for Christmas. 

The contingent is composed of ten nurses, four doctors, two paramedics and four logisticians. Team Leader Anne Marie Bruu and Senior Medical Officer Dr. Bjarte Askeland said it was an honour to be deployed to Samoa.

“If I grow old, this particular mission will always be in my mind and I am absolutely sure I will remember it the rest of my life,” Dr. Askeland said.

The group represents a conglomerate of other aid organisation in Norway, was first set up and certified by the World Health Organisation in 2018. They have been conducting training missions in neighbouring Romania and Armenia as well as on home soil before their trip to Samoa this month. 

There are over 72 other people registered to be on call for deployment.

Dr. Askeland is an intensivist and an anaesthetist. The other three doctors include another anaesthetist in intensive care, a paediatrician and a public health expert with a focus on measles, Dr. Øystein Rolandsen Riise, who, according to Dr. Askeland, may be the most accomplished such doctor in Norway and maybe even in Europe.

The Samoan staff in the hospitals, and the families affected by the epidemic have made the biggest impact on responding to the crisis so far, Dr. Askeland said.

“I am so impressed with the Samoan people. In my opinion they take this in a very stoic and very dignified way. We have all read the sad stories but they have a control that is, for me, very impressive,” he said. 

“Even though they (the staff) are so tired they don’t leave work, they go to work every day. When we can do the night shifts and late shifts we are able to give them some rest.”

The team of Norwegians are deployed all across the hospital, and bring special expertise in maternity care. In other circumstances, they are equipped to travel with an entire maternity ward, but were asked by the Government to bring only people on this deployment.

Ms. Bruu said they had just two days to respond to the call for deployment.

Their families at home are proud of them for responding to a humanitarian disaster so far from home, Ms. Bruu said; volunteering runs deep in Norwegian culture.

“There is no way I could have said no to this when I heard what happened,” Dr. Askeland added.

“I feel it’s something I had to do. When you are so warmly greeted and so thanked it makes it all worth it. Even missing Christmas, New Years, you miss your friends and all the parties, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

He said he has noticed how different Norwegians and Samoan people are, and that he has learned to relax on the job from his local counterparts. 

While at home, doctors and nurses might stress and run across their departments, here in Samoa work is still achieved with a more “relaxed” attitude.

This, in and amongst a massive surge in hospital admissions and major changes across the hospital with the addition of new wards and a flood of emergency medical professionals from around the world, is very impressive, Dr. Askeland said.

“If you are too stressed you don’t always get things done in a better way than if you are relaxed and take things more casually. [Samoans] are smiling, they are not running, and still they get the job done. That is something I will take to Norway, to do a good job in a relaxed way," the Dr. said. 

“In all this tragedy it’s important to remember that the people are still smiling and still believe in the future. You would have thought they could be pessimistic and depressed, but they are not.”

He said he feels a family connection to both the local and international staff working in the hospitals:

“It sounds like a fairy tale but it’s actually true. I really feel this connection and it’s special.”

The Norwegian team are in their second week of deployment and will stay until early January working across the hospitals. 

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