Govt. urged to utilise local expertise

A local surgeon, who said he has previously done postmortems for the Ministry of Police, has urged the Government to use local doctors as the number of dead bodies at the national hospital’s mortuary needing autopsy increases.

Leali'ifano Dr. Iopu Tanielu, 73, told the Samoa Observer that there is no need to bring in pathologists from abroad to do autopsies on bodies, which have increased at the Tupua Tamasese Meaole National Hospital’s mortuary due to a six-month backlog, as local doctors can do the job.

He said he is not a fully trained Forensic Pathologist, but he did some training at the Timaru Public Hospital in New Zealand before and used to be on standby to assist the Police.

“When I went for my training in New Zealand, I was trained in postmortem pathology,” he said.

“I am not a trained pathologist but I was a pathologist for the Police in Samoa. I was asked to stand in as forensic pathologist and that was in the late 70s and early 80s.”

Leali'ifano was responding to a recent Samoa Observer article that quoted the Attorney General, Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale, on arrangements to fly in a New Zealand-based pathologist to do postmortems.

However, Lealiifano is adamant that there is no need for the Government to go abroad and named two local colleagues who he said are qualified to do the job.

“I came to the paper to clarify this for the country so the people can understand that there are doctors in Samoa who are capable of doing this work,” he said.

“There are two trained Samoan pathologists [named] on the island. They have been trained in pathology and they have been doing post-mortems locally for the hospital.

“What I want to say is that we do have people who can perform the autopsies but the Attorney General has said there is no one to do the post-mortems.”

Attempts by the Samoa Observer to get comments from the Ministry of Health [M.O.H.] Director General, Leausa Dr Take Naseri, have been unsuccessful. 

But Leali'ifano said in previous years postmortems took three to four months to determine the cause of death, but in 2020 there is no reason for a six-month backlog.

“The facilities are here…the hospital has a nice lab and there is S.R.O.S. [the Scientific Research Organisation of Samoa] that can analyse chemicals,” he said.

"We didn’t have the capability before but tissue samples can be taken and analysed and you will have the results in two or three days.

“We have local doctors and the facilities…we have histology that can determine, for example, if someone has been poisoned or not.”

The availability of the internet, he added, can also allow local doctors to consult with experts outside the country.

“Results can be obtained quickly but before it took three or four months because we sent samples via mail.

“This is why I am saying we have pathologists who can be used but they are in private practice, but the Government says we don’t have pathologists on island. Yes we do.

“I don’t know why they don’t consult us, the doctors in private practice….I want to reassure the Attorney General and the Government that there are doctors who can do the job for them at very minimum cost and they have been doing it for many years. 

"They are trained pathologists.”

Lealiifano was among the first intake at the University of South Pacific [U.S.P.] in 1968. After U.S.P., he studied surgery in New Zealand and is also certified in total joint replacement and spinal surgery.

Now practising as a lawyer with the firm Tufuga Law, after studying law at the U.S.P. and graduating with a law degree in 2012, Lealiifano said it is not fair for families with loved ones in the mortuary to have to wait when local expertise is available to do the postmortems.

“It’s not fair for these people who have family members in the mortuary for no reason at all. It just shows that the Government is not doing their job. 

"The gist of it is that there are local people who can do the job but there must be a reason the Ministry of Health, but they should ask them for help.

“There are local doctors who can do the job for the government and as a former pathologist, I cannot see why they don’t ask…[for] help with their post mortems and clear the backlog at the mortuary.

“And put at ease the people who are waiting for their family members’ bodies.”

Comment is also being sought from the Office of the Attorney General. 

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