Use of local medical expertise smart move

By The Editorial Board 28 March 2023, 6:00AM

It is encouraging to see the Government working behind the scenes to address the country’s chronic shortage of medical expertise.

Samoa, like many small Pacific Island countries, has not avoided the long-term impact of the medical brain drain which has seen the migration of health specialists to developed nations in search of a better quality of life.

An article (P.S.C. permits medical teachers to work) in yesterday’s edition of the Samoa Observer reported on the Public Service Commission (P.S.C.) approving a proposal by the Ministry of Health (M.O.H.) to hire medical experts currently teaching at the National University of Samoa in a bid to address staff shortages.

The only thing needed now is approval from the school and for the medical experts to commit to helping the Ministry.

According to the Director General of Health, Aiono Dr. Alec Ekeroma, the idea is not new as he was also a medical practitioner in New Zealand, and it is used in other health systems abroad. 

Aiono told this newspaper that he is meeting the P.S.C. to hear their thoughts on the matter.

"I have been aware from being the Vice Chancellor of the University that there are experts there who can work for the Ministry of Health, to help us meet some of the demands that our medical system requires," he said. 

"For instance, the only qualified dermatologist works for N.U.S. and not having permission to work part-time in the hospital is such a waste of her knowledge and skills.

"There are eight others who work at the National University of Samoa, who can help the health sector, and reduce costs, while still allowing us to provide the service for the country.”

We welcome the initiative and hope the locally-based medical specialists and the university’s Faculty of Health Science agree and give the proposal their stamp of approval. The Health Director General is right, it is a waste of their talents if they are not working part-time for the M.O.H. to tackle health challenges facing citizens. 

Unfortunately, when it comes to addressing the medical brain drain issue, the Samoa Government like others in the region is caught between a rock and a hard place. 

Due to our vulnerable economies and smaller health budgets, it is hard retaining our best and most highly qualified medical personnel when we pay salaries that don’t commensurate with experience, which eventually sees them leaving for greener pastures in Australia or New Zealand, or even the U.S.

It is a curse that we will continue to live with – unless there is a drastic turnaround in Samoa’s economic fortunes, which would enable the M.O.H. to pay salaries that would be on par with international market rates.

A study published in 2008 gives us an indication of how many Pacific-born doctors and nurses Island nations like Samoa lost to developed nations. Titled Australia and New Zealand’s contribution to Pacific Island health worker brain, the study stated that based on the Australian 2006 Census, a total of 455 Pacific-born doctors and 1,158 Pacific-born nurses and midwives were working in Australia at that time. Their numbers increased to 607 (doctors) and 2,954 (nurses) a decade later, data from the 2016 Australian Census showed.

The last Australian Census was done in 2021 and it is likely that the trend has continued with more Pacific-born medical specialists moving abroad.

We are sure the same could be said for New Zealand, which currently has a Skilled Migrant Category Resident Visa for “highly skilled workers” such as doctors, engineers, and construction project managers. However, Samoans can bypass that process by registering for the Samoan Quota Resident Visa, which has 1,100 places each year with another 550 available annually until 2026.

What is the solution to this dilemma affecting our health system? Well, this proposal from the M.O.H. to the N.U.S. will attempt to alleviate the problem for now. And if it is being done with success in other health systems abroad then why not go down the same path; ultimately health workers such as doctors and nurses make it their life-long commitment to saving human lives.

We are reminded of the Hippocratic Oath sworn by physicians and medical practitioners today to do their best when attending to the sick and not violate their code, to ensure the life of their patient can be saved. 

By The Editorial Board 28 March 2023, 6:00AM
Samoa Observer

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