Samoa's coronavirus pandemic unit trained and ready

Samoa’s dedicated COVID-19 response team at Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital has been running simulations to prepare for the event that a suspected or positive case arrives on the island.

Head of the response team, Dr. Folototo Leavai, told the Samoa Observer on Saturday that the simulations have helped finesse the plan and that the team is ready to rapidly respond to COVID-19.

Samoa has still not had a case of COVID-19 and hopes to maintain this by keeping borders closed and having repatriated citizens undergo quarantine.

But while there is no outbreak, the hospital is making sure it knows how to handle one if it happens. 

An isolation unit with 18 beds and an intensive care unit of four beds has been established at the old hospital at the far end of T.T.M. Hospital.

It has been equipped with ventilators, cardiac monitoring machines, and dialysis machines, and a team is constantly preparing to have to manage the unit.

There is also a mini-maternity ward in case a patient with COVID-19 is pregnant.

“The idea is about confining everyone in one space so we don’t have to spread out in the rest of the hospital,” Dr. Leavai said. 

The entire process of developing a COVID-19 response team and plan is about ensuring the resources and health workers are prepared for the event of an outbreak.

Dr. Leavai said they have been preparing using the World Health Organisation and Centre for Disease Prevention and Control regulations and advice to develop a system for Samoa. 

The team has practiced identifying a suspect case during screening, moving them into an isolated room for further assessment and activating the team required to manage the case. 

That includes random simulations that can occur at any time the team are working their regular rounds in the hospital. 

“There were times when we were doing our usual work and we get a phone call, and it’s a team doing a simulation and practicing and making sure everyone is on.

“I think it has been really good, because we also identified a lot of gaps in the plan,” Dr. Leavai said. 

The COVID-19 response team has been divided into four units – Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta – who in the event of a serious outbreak or surge in cases will work on the ward for two weeks, and then take two weeks in quarantine in designated site on rotation. 

This will ensure health workers do not get burned out, especially given they may not get the international support that arrived during the measles epidemic. 

While the team are on their isolation ward shifts they will live at the hospital in a dedicated dormitory and not return to their families or regular wards.

“It’s been really good, because the guidelines are already there from W.H.O., and we also had W.H.O. representatives come in and help us.

“We are still testing it, up until now. It is better than when we started but we keep identifying gaps but we are ready.

“God forbid we don’t have a case, but the team is there and everybody has been working so hard, working together.”

Dr. Leavai said with the amount of work going on to prepare at the hospital, she said all the public have to do is comply with essential health precautions and instructions from the Government should an outbreak occur. 

Washing hands regularly, avoiding large gatherings and physical distancing from one another will all stop any spread of COVID-19. 

“It’s all simple rules, as long as people comply it should be okay.”

The Ministry of Health’s Health of the Nation programme broadcast on television and on the radio has been delivering some essential risk messages and guidance too, she said.

Deputy Director General of Public Health Tagaloa Dr. Robert Thomsen has also been responsible for devising clinical guidelines for patients with non-communicable diseases, which he presented to the members of the Samoa Medical Association at their annual scientific conference on Saturday.

M.O.H has also been training staff across the country on COVID-19. Among the work involved is training health workers on clinical guidelines for the disease.

It has also begun work on a mobile app to track suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Last week the ministry began an Integrated Public Health programme in Savaii, and is continuing the work this week in Upolu. 

As well as COVID-19 preparations it has included tuberculosis screening, family planning and immunisation training.

The National Kidney Foundation has trained four hospital based nurses in acute dialysis treatment, which they will need to use if a patient suffers an acute kidney injury as a result of COVID-19. 

So far the Pacific has remained nearly untouched by the global pandemic, though Fiji, New Calendonia, Papua New Guinea, French Polynesia, the Northern Marianas and Guam have had outbreaks, some more significant than others. 

Between 01 and 08 September 2020, 522 new cases were confirmed in the region. 

In Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii, community transmission is an ongoing issue that is gradually coming under control.

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