Norwegian doctor to take Samoan family values her

An overseas emergency medical team Paediatrician, Dr. Ingunn Nessestrand, says she has been moved by the way Samoan families have surrounded sick loved ones in hospital and wants to take Samoan family values home to Norway. 

Dr. Nessestrand is one of over 300 international medical experts who have flown into Samoa to help manage the impact of the measles epidemic, which has claimed 81 lives, mostly infant children. 

She has been working in the paediatric and intensive care unit of Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital for the last month and said the amount of sick children with measles has been overwhelming.

“It was very hard to come and see in the first days,” she said.

“It was so many, many, many sick kids. They had trouble with breathing, they had encephalitis, chest drains, empyema (pus between the lung and inner chest), it was just massive. 

“I tried to find in my experience something similar, but I didn’t have it. Even though I have been working 22 years as a paediatrician".

But she has found comfort in the rapidly improving situation. Before the Norwegian team arrived in Samoa, their local colleagues were dealing with multiple deaths a day and were constantly attempting to resuscitate dying children. 

This week alone has seen two children and one adult die of measles, but that is down from the week before which had six deaths. The week before that, Samoa lost 13 people. 

Dr. Nessestrand said she has grieved alongside the families of each child that has been lost in the ward over the past weeks: “You get closer to some kids because you have been together with them every day. Some of the kids I have seen for days and of course it’s harder when they die."

The language barrier doesn’t get in the way of looking after the patient’s family, Dr. Nessestrand said.

The doctor, whose hospital is in a county in Norway with a population the size of Samoa, said the biggest difference in their systems is that her hospital doesn’t allow entire families to spend time at their loved ones bedside, despite having more room to do so.

“At my hospital we have huge rooms and fewer beds in each room but there is always a fight of how many people can come together with this child," she said. 

“Here, there is no limit, the whole big family can come and stay close to the bed, they sleep there, and that’s okay. I think that’s something we can learn, to include the whole family not just one person, I think it’s nice.”

Under state of emergency orders, Police were empowered to help the hospital staff regulate visitors, which were mandated to be only one per patient, and always over 18 years of age.

This rule was intended to help stop the spread of disease as large groups gathered around seriously infectious children.

But Dr. Nessestrand said since she came to Samoa in early December, that the limits have not been enforced, with large families constantly at babies' bedsides.

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