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Pathologists fly in on request: P.M.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi says there is no reason for forensic pathologists to come to Samoa and they only travel over due to “special request” to clear a six months backlog of autopsies.

He said in the past there were Samoan pathologists working at the hospital but this profession is unique and one must have the stomach for the job.

“This is not an easy job," he added.

He said there hasn’t been a local [doctor] who has offered to take up this course due to the nature of the job, which is dealing with dead bodies that have decomposed.

Last week, a local surgeon, who said he has previously done postmortems for the Ministry of Police, 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, as local doctors can take on the job to clear the backlog in autopsies. 

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.”

Attorney General, Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale, told the Samoa Observer last week that they are working with the Police and the Ministry of Health to resolve a six-month backlog at the Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital’s mortuary.

But she said this will not remedied, until a pathologist arrives to perform post-mortem examinations required by Police investigations, the bodies there. 

“There was a recent arrangement for the pathologist to travel over but due to the fact that at the time a new Covid-19 case was suspected from New Zealand this flights from New Zealand were cancelled,” Savalenoa explained.

“Our office is working closely with the Ministry of Police and Ministry of Health to make arrangements for post mortems required for these bodies of persons whose deaths are suspicious. Post mortems are required for police investigations.”

The lockdown from the measles and COVID-19 have impacted on pathologists' travels over to Samoa for the autopsies, she said.

“The delay is an impact of the Covid-19 on the availability and travel of forensic pathologist required to conduct the post mortems on these bodies,” Savalenoa added.

“A forensic pathologist is required under law to conduct the post mortems and Samoa does not have its own forensic pathologist so Samoa has been relying on the generous assistance offered by pathologists in New Zealand and Australia.”

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