Health Chief rebuffs resignation call
The Director General of the Ministry of Health, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri, has declined to respond to a recent call by the Samoa National Democratic Party (S.N.D.P.) for his resignation over his handling of the measles crisis which has so far killed 79 people.
“I don’t want to answer that question,” said Leausa when he was asked by the Samoa Observer.
"I have work to do. Maybe later when the time is right."
The call was made by S.N.D.P.’s interim leader, Vui Seigafolava Masinamua, last week. He said Leausa must tender his resignation over the measles epidemic.
The Ministry reports that the total number of patients infected with the virus since the epidemic was declared in mid-October has now reached 5,494.
Vui further called on the Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi, to sack Leausa, during the same press conference.
"The Government was acting based on the advice by Leausa [during the measles crisis]. Three months ago he (Leausa) downplayed the seriousness of the impact of measles," he said.
But in an interview yesterday, Leausa said he was too focused on his current work to respond to the accusation.
The S.N.D.P. criticised the Government as being too slow to respond to the measles crisis.
The Government began its mass vaccination campaign on November 20, one month after the declaration of a measles outbreak.
Before that recent campaign Samoa's rate of immunisation was between 28-40 per cent, according to World Health Organisation (W.H.O.) estimates.
“Look at Tonga, Fiji and American Samoa, while they have the virus, no one died. The Government has been in power for more than 30 years yet they failed in ensuring the safety of the people through vaccination," Vui said.
The opposition party's interim leader said the suspension of the routine vaccination programme following a fatal incident in Savai'i that cost two infants' lives had an impact.
But he argued this was subsequently compounded by the Government giving voters a “choice” whether they want to vaccinate their children.
Leausa's refusal to answer calls for his resignation come after it was revealed that a letter to all Pacific Island states by the W.H.O. and the United Nations, urging them to prepare for the arrival of a measles epidemic.
A letter issued to all Pacific Island governments at the time urged them "to take proactive measures to close immunity gaps and strengthen their systems to rapidly detect and respond to measles cases," a spokesperson for the United Nations' International Children's Emergency Fund said.
The spokesperson said these messages were also delivered at an April meeting of Pacific health leaders in Fiji, and again at a Pacific Health Ministers meeting in French Polynesia.
Leausa attended both meetings according to public records.
The threat posed by measles to the Pacific states was raised in the meetings according to Dr Siale Akauola, the Chief Executive of Tonga's Ministry of Health, in the context of the significant death toll in the Philippines following an outbreak earlier this year.
By the time Samoa began its mass vaccination campaign, seven people were suspected to have died, and hundreds more were sickened.
Samoa has since passed laws making measles vaccinations mandatory. The Government also briefly shuttered all commerce and Government business across the nation to conduct a door-to-door vaccination campaign.
Approximately 94 per cent of Samoa's eligible population have now been vaccinated against the virus according to statistics.