Call for village health service revival
Former and current public servants are calling for health services to again become central to the work of village women’s committees, after the measles epidemic exposed gaps in the health system.
During the 84th session on the Convention on the Rights of the Child Committee, where Tuvalu, the Cook Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia are undergoing their periodic review, discussions on Samoa’s own child rights record have been taking place.
A talanoa panel discussion on early childhood development during emergencies featured Rosalina Ah Sue, the Principal of the Programmes and Training Division at the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development (M.W.C.S.D.).
She said that in the days when new parents were expected to take their children to the village women’s committee house to receive birth records, official weighing, and vaccinations, most children were captured by the system.
The programme was altered after the split and subsequent re-merge of the National Health Services and Ministry of Health, Ms. Ah Sue said.
“Because of that, I guess the assumption was that the parents would continue to be responsible and take their children to be vaccinated at the hospitals,” she told an audience composed of students, conference attendees and Committee members.
“Bad luck, because when measles struck, Samoa’s vaccination rates were at an all-time low. That caused a problem.”
During the state of emergency, Ms. Ah Sue led one of 20 social work teams going door-to-door, identifying families that needed help, guiding people to the hospitals and health centres and in some cases getting critically ill children into care.
Over about eight weeks, the teams identified more than 2,500 people who had still, despite a national campaign, not been vaccinated against measles, which at the end of the epidemic had claimed more than 83 lives and had infected nearly 5,000 people.
There was no geographic trend to where those people came from, Ms. Ah Sue said, nor why they had not been vaccinated. Some were ignorant to their obligations, while others were hostile and uncooperative.
“Alongside the survey, we also conducted awareness in terms of psycho-social support,” she added. That work was done alongside and with the help of the United Nations Children’s Fund (U.N.I.C.E.F),” she said.
Also attending the session was Leituala Kuiniselani Toelupe Tago-Elisara, formerly the Chief Executive Officer of M.W.S.C.D. Today she is the Director of the Social Development Programme of the Pacific Community.
She said the programme, Aiga ma Nuu Manuia, which was a framework on which all other village interventions could be built, was the perfect setup for the health system to operate with, and should be used again.
“You have got a structure, you have a network on the ground, it’s a matter of Government looking at a strategy, whether it’s a revival of the Aiga ma Nuu Nanuia or something else,” she said.
“It’s about how this would be translated on the ground in consultation with those groups and how we then support them.”