Coronavirus would risk health workers' lives

As Samoa braces for the worst case scenario should the coronavirus reach our shores, the Taskforce charged with overseeing the nation’s response is concerned most of all about staff. 

The Head of the C.O.V.I.D.-19 Taskforce, Poao Dr. Lamour Hansell, told the 12th Annual Health Sector Forum, that health staff would be overwhelmed if the disease reached Samoa. 

Asked by the attendees if the taskforce had a ‘plan B’ for healthworkers should the virus overrun Samoa, Dr. Hansell shed tears as he said the only option available involved isolating health workers from their families and putting their lives at risk on the frontline. 

With facilities already under excessive strain, Dr. Hansell said another outbreak on top could result in a meltdown.

“[Our] number one concern and priority is our staff. If there is no health staff, if they are infected and quarantine them for 14 days, there’s no one to look after our public,” he said.

“We’ve already heard about the constraints and the challenges that our clinical health has right now and we are stretched just with the normal services. Having another extra outbreak on top of our current service, we won’t be able to cope.”

One per cent of Samoa’s population constitutes its health staff, said Dr. Hansell, which while substantial seeming on paper is not nearly enough in reality. 

According to a World Bank Analysis Report from 2019, Samoa currently has 77 doctors including consultants with 607 nurses on the Ministry of Health (M.O.H.) payroll.

These numbers translate to roughly 2532 Samoan people per doctor and 321 for every nurse employed, given Samoa's 195,000 population.

During his presentation, Dr. Hansell told the attendees that Samoa has a small window left to prepare for the virus: “We’ve been working hard, working this weekend, no one is sleeping.”

At this moment, he said that the M.O.H. are preparing for the worst case scenarios by taking notes from the experience of Governments overseas.

“The concern is the unknown; we don’t know how our people will react yet,” he said. 

During China’s fight against the coronavirus, videos and articles circulated on social media of children waving from afar to their parents who were fighting in the front line of the disease within hospitals.

Multiple health workers reportedly died after being infected with the virus, fatigue from being overworked as well as cases of cardiac arrest from exhaustion from working more than ten days consecutively.

“We need a Samoan response; we don’t need a health response,” Dr. Hansell said. 

 “We coped during the measles because we had help from overseas, we might not be able to do that this time.

“So we are pinning on you, to help us, we are depending on everyone to do their job.

“We got great experience from the measles outbreak and that’s why God allowed it to happen, to prepare us for this time and we got experienced people here that were involved with measles outbreak that can help manage this.”


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