W.H.O. readies Samoa for worst case scenario

Samoans will need to be careful not to overwhelm health facilities if the coronavirus arrives here, the World Health Organisation (W.H.O.) has warned, something that can only be done with a nationwide effort. 

A strong collective response in the event of the coronavirus (C.O.V.I.D.-19) spreading in Samoa will prevent widespread transmission and avoid the under-resourced hospital system from becoming overwhelmed, as happened during the measles epidemic and in countries battling coronavirus.

World Health Organisation country representative, Dr. Rasul Baghirov, said not everyone who gets coronavirus or C.O.V.I.D.-19 will need to go to hospital, only around two in ten. 

Limited resources in the hospital sector to treat that potential 20 per cent of infected people who might require hospital care, or the one in 20 people who might need intensive care, every effort must be made to avoid the spread of disease.

Microbiologist and science communication expert, Dr. Siouxie Wiles, said if that happens, the epidemic curve can be effectively ‘flattened’. 

“If we can spread the number of people who contract the disease over a longer period of time, then we’ll have enough beds and ventilators for everyone who needs them,” she told the New Zealand media outlet The Spinoff

As well as practicing excellent hygiene and avoiding people who are unwell, knowing when to go to a doctor or health facility and giving that hospital or health centre notice will help doctors prepare.

One Government response to the threat of coronavirus has been for the Ministry of Health to activate a call centre people can call with their questions or concerns at any time. There are six phone numbers dedicated exclusively to that purpose (24402, 21173, 21176, 21163, 22241 and 22914).

Dr. Baghirov said he is calling for more education in the villages about what C.O.V.I.D.-19 is, what its symptoms look like and what people should do about it.

“That will require the involvement of the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development, the village councils, so it’s beyond the Ministry of Health,” he said.

“I see the key being going to the villages and educating people: if I experience some symptoms and I don’t know what it is, it may be a seasonal flu, it could be dengue, a runny nose and coughing, do I need to panic, or what? Do I need to come to the health centre, do I need to see a doctor? 

“Those kinds of questions need to be answered.”

He said while television, media, social media and briefing sessions carried out by the Ministry of Health are all welcome, still more needs to be done.

People need to know whether to self-isolate and care for themselves or their loved ones at home, and which symptoms should tell them when it’s serious enough to come to hospital and how that can be done without spreading the disease.

During the measles epidemic, several children were brought to hospital nearly 10 days later than they should have because of families choosing to keep them at home. 

The epidemic also revealed how challenging it is for Samoan families to isolate family members if necessary, due to the physical layout of their homes.

“People need to know what to do and not to come and overwhelm the health facilities. But how do they know? It’s education, education, and again education,” Dr. Baghirov said. 

The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in America says if people suspect you have, or are confirmed to have C.O.V.I.D.-19, you should stay home except to get medical care, avoid public places and public transport and separate yourselves from people and animals in the home. 

The main symptoms are fever, cough and shortness of breath.

People should wear a facemask when around other people, cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and dispose of used tissues carefully in a rubbish bin; not share dishes or drinking vessels, bedding or towels with other people; and wash everything with soap and water. 

People are also advised to routinely clean often-touched such as kitchen areas, tables, doorknobs, toilets, phones, computer work spaces and bedside tables.

Persistent pain or pressure in a person’s chest, confusion or persistent sleepiness, and blue tinged lips or face are symptoms that emergency medical attention is needed. 

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