When people are informed, they understand and become part of the solution
The flaws and problems within our health sector are not new.
They have been with us for as long as we can remember. From the chronic shortage of doctors, nurses to resources and finances constraints, these problems have been around and will continue to pose challenges, possibly forever.
In an ideal world, we’d all like for things to be perfect, one where there are none of these problems – especially in the health sector. That includes having a functioning health system where there is a doctor for every ten patients and where nurses outnumber patients at the hospital so they could provide 24-hour care without being overworked and underpaid.
We’d all like to have the Government pouring an endless stream of money to ensure our best medical experts are kept in Samoa so they can help our people and in turn improve health service delivery. We’d love to have a hospital where there are enough beds, IVs and all the x-ray machines in the world and more. There are many other things we can think of that would spell a functioning health service in an ideal world.
The problem is that this is not an ideal world. This is the real world where flaws and problems are aplenty. And when it comes to the health service, you don’t have to be an expert of any sort to know that things are far from ideal.
This is not confined to Samoa. Even some of the biggest countries with a lot more money in the world are continuing to struggle with many of the perennial problems we have in Samoa.
But that’s about where the similarities end. The difference is that in those countries where the health systems – problems and all – are a lot more accountable and transparent about what is happening. Which is an important aspect of moving towards finding a solution.
When Government allows transparency and accountability to become part of their processes, members of the public whom they exist to serve are not merely spectators and critics; they become part of the solution.
How? When people are well informed, they are a lot more understanding. It goes without saying that knowledge is power and when people are empowered to understand the struggles and challenges, they get an appreciation of the challenges and they take ownership of them.
Now lets bring it closer to home and what is happening here today. As we’ve said, the problems within our health system are not new. Even before the measles crisis the writing was on the wall.
On top of many warnings from different international agencies about Samoa’s low immunization rate, we cannot ignore the report by the Commission of Inquiry appointed by Cabinet to review the plan for the National Health Services and the Ministry of Health to merge.
At the beginning of 2018, the Commission warned that the sorry state of the health sector in Samoa had dire consequences on the nation’s health. They expressed serious concerns about the state of play, which compromised the ability of the health sector to function, and more seriously placed lives of members of the public at risk.
“(This comes) at a time when the public still languish for long hours to see the few overworked doctors and nurses at TT Hospital in Apia (which is apparently a luxury if you live in Savaii where there is no registered doctor available at any time),” the report reads. “(This is also happening in) a system where there are still shortages of basic supplies, and is both disgraceful and symptomatic of managers who have misplaced their sense of responsibility, and misused their time and public resources to fuel conflict rather than focus on whether the public have access to efficient, clinically safe and humane care and treatment.”
This was two years ago.
On the front page of the Samoa Observer yesterday, story titled “Hospital’s fatal shortfalls exposed” highlighted another report. This time, "The Measles Outbreak Clinical Plan" revealed “gross neglect” of seriously ill children at the under-resourced and overwhelmed national hospital.
The report highlighted extensive gaps in manpower, medication and resources at the Tupua Tamasese Meaole (T.T.M.) Hospital, flaws that were clearly exposed during the measles epidemic.
“There is a gross neglect of the N.I.C.U./Nursery (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) patients due to the overwhelming measles surge,” the report states. “The implications of neglect will be reflected in the mortality and morbidity rates within the unit during this time of crisis.”
Interestingly, the 12-page review, dated 17 November 2019, was authored by a medical expert, intended for the National Emergency Operations Centre (N.E.O.C.). Until the content of this report surfaced on the pages of your newspaper yesterday, it’s unlikely that the people who needed to see it would have. Which raises a whole lot of other questions about systems of good governance and systems that are in place.
Was this report given due consideration? And could it have saved a life or lives?
The truth is this; over the years, we’ve lost count of reports, inquiries and what have you, which have continued to highlight the same old problems within our health system. We accept we do not live in a perfect world and some of these problems will continue to be around.
But looking in from the outside, these problems are deteriorating. The state of play appears to be going from bad to worse costing precious, precious lives.
How long more will we continue to put up with this? Where is the outrage?
Eighty-three innocent lives were lost during the measles crisis; many of them could have been spared. What guarantee do we have that changes are being made so that an epidemic of another kind will not do the same to Samoa?
Or are we to expect the content of "The Measles Outbreak Clinical Plan” report to be swept under the mat, like they usually do, with officials pretending that all is well in Samoa? Typical.
What do you think? Write and share your thoughts with us!