Health sector mourns passing of top doctor

The passing of the Deputy Director General of Clinical Services at the Ministry of Health, Fa’amausili Dr. Ponifasio Ponifasio, has brought tremendous sadness to the health sector, his family and the many lives he saved over the years.

Fa'amausili passed away in Auckland New Zealand on 19 November 2020. His funeral service was held at the St. Annes Catholic Church in New Zealand. 

Dr. Ponifasio was trained as a General Surgeon at the School of Medicine at the University of Papua New Guinea.

He was a Chief Surgeon at the Samoa Ministry of Health from 2012 until he was appointed as the Deputy Director General of Health in mid-2019. 

The Clinical Director of the National Kidney Foundation for Samoa, Leituala Dr. Ben Matalavea, expressed his deepest condolences to the grieving family. 

He told the Samoa Observer that he was shocked to hear the news of his passing from a family member of the deceased.

Leituala reminisced about the time when he was the Clinical Director of the National Health Services [N.H.S.] now merged with M.O.H. while the late Fa'amausili was his Deputy.

“I got to know him through work, and he was reliable and if you had an insight to a surgeon’s mind and attitude, they decide quickly and action quickly to operate to save someone’s life,” he said.

He added that most of the deceased’s life was practicing in Papua New Guinea till 2012 where he came back to Samoa and was granted a license to practice surgery in Samoa within our National Health Services.

“He was also the Head of the surgical department of N.H.S. and he was also into mentoring and getting the young people who are interested in surgery to go for postgraduate training.”

The Oceania University of Medicine Samoa (O.U.M.S.) also joined many others in mourning the passing of Dr. Ponifasio, who was a dedicated surgeon, a leader as Deputy Director General of Health (Clinical Services), a role model for O.U.M.S. students, and an active member of the O.U.M.S. Council.

The University Founder and Chairman of the O.U.M.S. Council, Taffy Gould said that it is with great sadness that O.U.M.S. has learned of the passing of Dr. Ponifasio, valued member of the O.U.M.S. Council.

“We shall miss his wise counsel and offer our sincere condolences to Dr. Ponifasio's family.”

According to a statement from O.U.M.S., it states that the deceased was nominated to serve on the O.U.M.S. Council in 2018 by the Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi.

Dr. Ponifasio was one of several Samoan members of the O.U.M.S. Council, the University’s governing body. 

“He was a great supporter of OUM and participated actively on the Council whilst his health allowed,” added Ms. Gould.

“He commented on how much he enjoyed meeting our students and hearing their varied backgrounds.”

The O.U.M.S. Vice Chancellor, Toleafoa Dr. Viali Lameko added that he will be dearly missed.

 “As the Chief Surgeon, he has served as a Clinical Supervisor for our clinical students. 

“He was loved by our students. As a colleague, he was a hard working clinician and a leader who refused to mix emotions and his duties to the care of his patients. 

“He also was a person not afraid to say something about anything that did not seem right or he felt was not right. He was both a thinker and a doer. He will be missed.”

Attempts by this newspaper to get comments from family members of the deceased was not successful.

The late Dr. Ponifasio was well respected within the Papua New Guinea [P.N.G.] medical fraternity, not only as a graduate of the University of Papua New Guinea Medical School  [U.P.N.G.] but also as a lecturer in surgery at his old university while working as a surgeon at the country’s largest public hospital, the Port Moresby General Hospital. 

Imparting his knowledge in surgery to trainee-doctors in P.N.G. began in 1992 as a Teaching Fellow at the U.P.N.G., and two years later in 1994 he became a lecturer in surgery as well as the university’s Coordinator of the Postgraduate Masters of Medicine programme, a position he held for close to 11 years.

He also worked as a Medical Director at the St Johns Ambulance in Port Moresby (1994-2005) and was also a visiting lecturer at the P.N.G. Maritime College (2000-2002), a visiting consultant surgeon for Lihir Gold Ltd (2000-2003) and Managing Director of the Port Moresby-based The Doctors Ltd (1999-2010).

The Women Doctors Association [W.D.A.] in P.N.G. expressed their condolences at the passing of the late Samoan surgeon in a post on their Facebook page on Tuesday.

“Our sincere condolences to the family of late Dr. Ponifasio Ponifasio.

“Dr. Ponifasio graduated from the Medical School here in PNG and worked as a surgeon for many years at Pom Gen before returning to New Zealand and moving to Samoa, holding the position of Chief Surgeon before his untimely passing,” reads the Facebook post.

“He was a staunch supporter of W.D.A. in the early days and always attending and working hard behind the scenes at our fundraising events. Thank you Poni and may you rest in eternal peace and love."

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