Health questions met with deafening silence
The Ministry of Health has remained silent on questions about Samoa's coronavirus pandemic response and other pressing concerns including levels of E. Coli in Samoa’s household drinking water.
Following an Australian funded workshop into COVID-19 and communication where Director General of Health, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri gave a presentation, this newspaper was asked to put all queries in writing rather than address them in person.
Two weeks ago, questions were sent to Leausa the concerning the levels of E. Coli in Samoa’s household drinking water and whether the private health sector will be engaged in either the COVID-19 response planning or in the routine vaccination work.
Leausa was also asked whether the health workers, security and transport officers working with quarantined repatriated citizens are routinely isolated while on duty or tested for COVID-19 throughout their work.
The questions were sent to Leaysa on 25 August 2020. The Government’s communications department and the Minister’s office were copied.
Two weeks later, no one has responded to the emailed questions, nor have any of the questions been addressed through the Prime Minister’s office during his broadcasted interviews as has been common.
In the following weeks, two further emails were sent to enquire whether answers would be sent and neither were responded too.
When contacted over the phone on Monday, a government spokesperson said he is following up with appropriate officials on the status of any official response.
During the COVID-19 communications workshop, the Director-General informed media that in response to frequent requests for information or comment, the Ministry of Health is hoping to have its own communications officer.
He also made an apology to the media and said: "going forward we work together."
“I think we will have press personnel to answer questions soon, we need to get that through Government if they will allow that,” Leausa said in mid-August.
“That is why they opted to have Government media so that anyone of us can give information to them to relay to you.”
He is referring to the Government Press Secretariat, housed within the Ministry of Prime Minister and Cabinet, which has become responsible for answering all media requests across several ministries and government agencies.
Leausa also said he intends to ask the National Emergency Operations Centre if media can have copies of the daily situation reports shared with Cabinet on the COVID-19 situation in Samoa, albeit potentially modified.
In the absence of any cases, this report includes details on how many people are in quarantine, how many tests are being conducted and their results.
Some of the questions sent to the Director General and Government Press Secretariat on August 25:
1: Can you confirm MOH has identified over 1000 cases of an influenza like illness in the last week in Samoa and are still awaiting the aetiology of these illnesses? Source: https://reliefweb.int/map/world/epidemic-and-emerging-disease-alerts-pacific-24-august-2020
2: Regarding the levels of e-coli in the water per SBS research: What are your thoughts on the current levels of e-coli and what would you have done about it? How many cases of gastroenteritis cases present to the hospital in the last year or so? Is this a matter of concern for you?
3: Can you provide an update as to when Samoa may be able to have a coroner come to Samoa?
4: When repatriated citizens arrive to quarantine, does MOH collect information from them like where they intend to stay after their quarantine and contact information in order to rapidly contact them if required? What level of detail is collected?
5: Are the transport officers, health workers and quarantine facility staff expected to isolate during their working shifts with repatriated citizens and do they get tested? How many people that work alongside the repatriated citizens have been tested?
6: What preparations have been made to enlist or work with the private health sector should a medical emergency happen in Samoa?