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People of the Year 2019: Toleafoa Dr. Viali Lameko

As Samoa was left reeling in 2019 by a measles epidemic that has claimed more than 80 lives, one doctor stood up.

Toleafoa Manufalealili Dr. Viali Lameko was the first member of Samoa’s medical fraternity to speak out and call for the need for a national commission of inquiry into the epidemic’s causes.

Toleafoa is the son of the Late Melini, and Member of the Council of Deputies, Tuiloma Pule Alaimoana Unasa Lameko Gae’e, and Toleafoa is the current Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive Officer, Oceania University of Medicine (O.U.M.), since 2015.

At the helm of the O.U.M. he has also tackled a long-standing public health issue (the shortage of doctors in Samoa) by offering a five-year programme scholarships to Samoan citizens. 

The monetary value per scholarship - the bursaries are named after the Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi - is about $375,000.

In 2002, there were 35 medical doctors in the health sector; now the number has increased dramatically to approximately 80.

Aside from heading the University, Toleafoa is also a Senior Clinical Lecturer at the Internal Medicine Department of the O.U.M.

To this day, Toleafoa also continues to be a visiting Public Health Consultant for the hospital and is the visiting Senior Medical Officer to the Internal Medicine Department.

He holds a Bachelor of Science, from New Zealand’s Auckland University; a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery from the Fiji School of Medicine, Suva; and a Master’s of Global Health, from the University of Sydney, Australia.

He’s currently studying for his PhD at the National University of Samoa, under the Supervision of Prof Penelope Schoeffel.

Prior to taking the top job at the O.U.M. Toleafoa held a variety of positions within the health sector including as Minister of Health on Public and Global Health issues within the Ministry of Health in 2009.

On a weekly basis, Toleafoa continues to conduct free visitations to Mapuifagalele Old People’ Home as their medical doctor.

But despite having such an accomplished career, Toleafoa revealed that medicine is not a family profession: all other members of his family are accountants.

“I am named after one of my father’s best friends, the late Leita'atimu Dr Viali, and I believe [my] interest to take up medicine started from there.

“All my siblings are accountants including my late parents, and I was the only one who took science subjects and continue to take medicine,” said Toleafoa.

But his own family, with wife Sally Grevel and their three children, has a diverse range of interests.

“One is currently in third year medical student at the Fiji National University, and another one about to start medical studies at the O.U.M.”

When the subject of his family is raised, Toleafoa reminisces about his late parents.

“They were farmers, albeit being accountants, and hard working parents,” he said. “They told us that education is the key to a better future, if you utilized decorously.

“My father was particularly a very strict man and a typical Samoan father.” Toleafoa remembered his mother always serving in the household.

“I have seen my mother always cooking to serve the guests and extended family members who have been vising our home almost every day for many years or gathering [fine mats],” he said.

“When my father was appointed as one of the Council of Deputies, I asked: ‘How could this happen?’”

“How could this farmer and a non-paramount chief be appointed to this high position in the Government of Samoa? I believe it was because he was just a humble hard working person,” Toleafoa says. 

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