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Why it is necessary to initiate a Commission of Inquiry into the measles crisis

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi’s changing tone on calls for a full Commission of Inquiry to investigate the circumstances, which led to the fatal measles crisis, is a step in the right direction.

The call was made by Samoa’s lone opposition voice, Olo Fiti Vaai, on the pages of your newspaper two weeks ago. By speaking out, Olo merely voiced what many decent thinking people had been muttering under their breaths, since the measles death toll spiralled out of control. Common sense right?

Not really according to Prime Minister Tuilaepa who initially rejected the call, saying it was a typical “political gimmick” by Olo to win points during a very difficult time in this country’s history.  

But that tone of Prime Minister Tuilaepa appears to be changing. From what we’ve seen, the Prime Minister and his administration has had a change of heart and will eventually yield to public pressure by instigating an Inquiry “all in due time.”

When that is, no one knows. What we do know is that while the nation is in the throes of dealing with the crisis at hand, now is probably not the best time.

Although the statistics for the past week definitely point to measles numbers “waning,” we cannot afford to be complacent. The immediate focus should remain saving lives and ensuring the measles outbreak – as we know it today – is ended, pronto.

As your newspaper has said time and time again over the past four weeks, far too many lives have been lost in this crisis.  One life is tragic enough. To have 72 precious lives, the majority being innocent children ended prematurely by a disease we now know could have been prevented, is inconceivable.

Which is where we believe the call for a full Commission of Inquiry is more than a legitimate point. It is the right thing to do for the sake of transparency, accountability and good governance, as this Government claims to be its mantra.

Not everybody will agree. Some people have already condemned the call as a finger pointing exercise looking to find faults in the Government. We respectfully disagree.

Ladies and gentlemen; nothing could be further from the truth.

The impact of the measles crisis extends far beyond the nation’s health. Since the epidemic was declared, measles has impacted every area of life in Samoa and beyond.

It has indeed affected education, disrupted the future paths of thousands of students, it has hurt businesses from small stall owners to the biggest businesses of them all. Tourism, which is the mainstay of Samoa’s economy, has taken a massive hit, which will take years to recover from.  

But the impact does not stop there. It has disrupted many families’ plans for the Festive Season, which would no doubt have cost them hundreds of thousands of tala. We can go on but you get our drift.

Besides and perhaps the most important factor in all this is the fact that lives have been lost. There needs to be accountability in terms of these deaths.

Last year, the lives of two babies were lost in Savai’i. The tragedy became the subject of a full Commission of Inquiry, which found that the nurses were careless in administering the vaccination.

Criminal charges followed and those two nurses have since been convicted and jailed. Whether we agree or not, that is accountability, transparency and good governance.

The Government needs to do the same with the circumstances that led to the measles crisis. If two nurses have been jailed for the deaths of two babies in Savai’i, how much more is accountability needed over the deaths of more than 70 people?

There are so many questions that need to be answered and these questions should be the subject of a Commission of Inquiry.

Let’s not forget that the health sector, mainly what we know today as the Ministry of Health, has been in a state of turmoil for many, many years.

Speaking of inquiries, let us quickly revisit the findings of the last Commission of Inquiry into the health system. Ladies and gentlemen, the writing was on the wall, alarm bells should have gone off and yet some people were asleep at the wheel.

At the beginning of 2018, a report by a Commission of Inquiry appointed by Cabinet to review the merge between the Ministry of Health (M.O.H.) and the National Health Services (N.H.S.) warned that the “state of warfare” between the leaders of the health sector in Samoa had dire consequences on the nation’s health.

The Commission of Inquiry expressed serious concerns about the state of play, which compromised the ability of the health sector to function, and more seriously placed lives of members of the public at risk.

“(This comes) at a time when the public still languish for long hours to see the few overworked doctors and nurses at TT Hospital in Apia (which is apparently a luxury if you live in Savaii where there is no registered doctor available at any time),” the report reads.

 “(This is also happening in) a system where there are still shortages of basic supplies, and is both disgraceful and symptomatic of managers who have misplaced their sense of responsibility, and misused their time and public resources to fuel conflict rather than focus on whether the public have access to efficient, clinically safe and humane care and treatment.”

The measles epidemic is yet another confirmation of the sorry state of affairs and dysfunctional management of the health sector.

And all this has been happening under whose watch again?

We didn’t say a word.

Have a wonderful Sunday Samoa, God bless!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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