Medical supplies being rallied in Australia

Friends of the Ministry of Health in Australia and New Zealand are rallying medical supply distributors to donate large amounts of gloves, gowns and masks for staff containing the measles epidemic.

Hospitals across the country are filling up fast and single-use items essential for hygiene are used at exceptional rates. Masks in particular are in short supply, as they are used by both medical professionals and members of the public.

Dr. Chris Hair, member of the Australia and New Zealand Gastroenterology International Training Association (A.N.Z.G.I.T.A.) has been in Samoa three or four times supporting Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital staff with their work, and kept in close contact with senior management there.

When Ministry of Health Deputy Director General Tevaga Dr. Ponifasio Ponifasio told him Samoa needed supplies, it didn’t take long for Dr. Hair to sound the alarm in his network, and by the end of the week will be ready to send a container load of the required goods.

“Just the cost of purchasing those consumables alone, for any health service, is quite significant,” Dr. Hair said.

“Obviously they will consume a lot of [supplies] at this stage because a lot of the equipment is one use only because of the infection risk. 

“If our small organisation can send across a large quantity of these items it means the Health budget can be used for other important things like the vaccinations or employment.”

Dr. Hair said he anticipates sending over several pallet loads of items, meaning thousands of facemasks and gowns for a start. 

They are also expecting to send a large quantity of hand sanitiser and disposable cups and plates for measles-infected patients, to help avoid the spread of the disease. 

Majority of the supply is arriving directly from international suppliers of medical equipment which typically stock hospitals across Australia and New Zealand. Dr. Hair said it was easy to ask them to donate the equipment.

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“Reaching out to these people and telling them what is happening in Samoa is very easy for me to do. 

“I have been in contact with friends and colleagues there and the media is very good with covering the last three to four weeks of the emergency and that is a really important message to get across to the rest of the world, to come and help.

“It’s a very easy message to sell, a lot of people need help.”

He said the companies, like many others, will be looking to be responsible global citizens in a time of crisis.

A.N.Z.G.I.T.A. and the hospital group he works with, Epworth, will finance the logistics of getting the donations to Samoa.

“When there is a crisis of any sort, our organisation and hospital organisation, I really call on all those people to help and they are really willing,” he said.

Dr. Hair first came to Samoa with the association in 2016 to help the endoscopy department grow their skills, following on from specialist training in Fiji.

He was also instrumental, alongside Tevaga, in developing a telephone advice service for the gastroenterology department of T.T.M Hospital, putting doctors in close contact with volunteer doctors in Australia and New Zealand when they need support.

The work is similar to the telehealth service built by Dr. David Galler and his colleagues in the intensive care unit of the hospital, which is no longer functioning in that way. 

“Dina was incredible when she was running the intensive care before she took leave from it. That similar network where there are a number of volunteers is really great support for that part of the hospital.

“We are trying to replicate something similar with gastroenterology.”

Dr. Hair intends to be in Samoa next April to officially handover specialist endoscopy equipment he fundraised for, which arrived in the country earlier this year. 

Tevaga had hoped to celebrate the donation in November but has held the ceremony until after the worst of the measles epidemic is over, Dr. Hair said. 

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