Resignation calls premature: top doctor

Calls for the Director General of the Ministry of Health, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri, to step down in the wake of the measles epidemic are premature, one of the country's top physicians, Toleafoa Dr. Viali Lameko, has said. 

During an interview with the Samoa Observer about epidemic, the Vice-Chancellor of the Oceania University of Medicine said that many factors had to be considered when assessing its causes. 

“A Commission of Inquiry: that will answer all the questions including the issue over the position of the Director General,” he said. 

“I am not defending the Director General or the [Ministry] but we cannot point the finger when we don’t have the facts just yet”.

But Toleafoa also revealed that, in the first week of November, he voiced concerns during a doctors’ meetings about the response to the epidemic. 

“Children have died from the epidemic already and many have been infected, and in my books, it is time to call the epidemic a public health emergency; given the immunisation coverage in Samoa is very low, it is going to be a disaster,” he said. 

Toleafoa recalled advocating the need to inform Government leaders as soon as possible that urgent action be taken. 

“I even said at that meeting that it is time to consider hiring the local Paediatricians who are working as General Practitioners, such as Drs. Leo'o John Adams, Lauano Dr Herbert Peters, and others to come in to help the [Ministry’s] Paediatric Team care for the huge volume of patients with measles related medical complications,” he said. 

A call for Leausa to tender his resignation was made by the interim leader of a new opposition party, the S.N.D.P., Vui Seigafolava Masinamua, earlier this month. Vui argued the Ministry had been too slow to respond to the epidemic, declared in mid-October. 

But Toleafoa said many factors contributed to the direction of public health and all of these needed to be taken into account when assessing the factors contributing to epidemic which has gone on to claim 81 lives. 

“For example, the assumption [has been made that] there is a failure of the health system in controlling the epidemic before it happened,” he said. 

“The health system has six building blocks and this is the same [... approach] adhered [to] in other Health Ministries across the globe.  

“There’s the clinical services, where the doctors and nurses come in [...] the health information system [...] human resources and planning [...] procurement; financing and leadership. 

“Outside of those health blocks, there are other [contributing] issues such as water and sanitation, malnutrition, [the] environment where people live, [their] education level, and the economy of the country.”

All aspects need consideration before a determination was made on the role of the Director-General, Toleafoa said. 

He reiterated that a Commission of Inquiry should focus on the response of the Ministry of Health to the epidemic. 

Leausa earlier this month declined to comment on the calls that he tender his resignation. 

“I don’t want to answer that question,” said Leausa when contacted by the Samoa Observer.

"I have work to do. Maybe later when the time is right." 

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