Ten Fijian midwives lend help to Samoa

The Pacific is banding together over the measles epidemic, with Fiji deploying ten midwives to boost Samoa’s response to women and families made more vulnerable because of the disease sweeping the nation.

The United Nations Population Fund (U.N.F.P.A.) has brought ten retired midwives from across Fiji to stay in Samoa for ten weeks, supporting the maternity and labour wards of the nation’s hospitals across Upolu and Savaii.

U.N Chief, Simona Marinescu said their deployment is an example of regional cooperation the two countries should be proud of. They are funded by the U.N Central Emergency Response Fund which released $2.7 million towards Samoa and the Pacific for the measles response work. 

Of that sum, $1.5 million is for Samoa alone. The UNFPA accounts for $146,296.58 of that sum, the rest of which is being managed by other U.N agencies. 

The midwives are from Suva and Western Fiji, and spent most of their lives in emergency wards. They were also first responders during Cyclone Winston in 2016, the one of the most severe tropical storm in the Southern Hemisphere on record.

Team lead Sovaeia Uluimalolo said the women are looking forward to serving Samoa. They will have orientation in Apia and in the Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital, and then may be deployed further afield. 

They will miss Christmas and the New Year celebrations with their families, but say they are focused on the task at hand.

“We hope to bring our best to the country,” Ms. Uluimalolo said. As well as midwifery services, they will offer family planning advice and counselling to affected families.

Ms. Marinescu, U.N. Resident Coordinator said family health and maternity needs are really important, something that Director General of Health Leausa Dr. Take Naseri agrees with her on, she said.

“Every D.A.C. (Disaster Advisory Committee) meeting, he acnkoweldges the support of the UNFPA in the measles crisis, because he realised while babies need to be vaccinated they are vulnerable up to six months when no vaccine can be given.

“The role of UNFPA in sexual and reproductive health and maternal healthcare services was something I guess is new to [Samoa].

Women are especially at risk during an epidemic, because not only are pregnant women unable to be vaccinated but newly vaccinated women should not become pregnant as their child could be at risk.

Helping communities understand these two factors and how to manage them is something the U.N.F.P.A can do, Ms. Marinescu said. 

Alongside the midwives, the agency is distributing family planning packs with information about reproductive health and condoms. They are free and being dispensed across the country.

And in the future, Samoa’s social protection legislation, which will be built under the umbrella of United Nations work costing around US$3 million, will also include measures to ensure Samoa’s children are vaccinated.

“The entire legislation for social protection will recognise the rights of the child in addition to the fundamental right to social protection for everyone,” Ms. Marinescu explained.

“The social welfare component that looks into benefits for people who cannot work – people with disabilities, heads of households with multiple kids – it’s putting the foundations of addressing poverty and inclusion.

 “We will ensure that any benefits that come to children and to their families will be made conditional upon full completion of immunisation so we have multiple ways to incentivise families to vaccinate their kids. 

New legislation this week makes receiving the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and all other routine childhood vaccines a mandatory prerequisite for children's school enrollment. 

But should any child be held out of school, another barrier to accessing social services may ensure those children are vaccinated regardless. 

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