As countries around the world continue to battle the devastation of Covid-19, Samoa remains one of the few nations to be Covid-19 free.
Dr Belladonna Potoi, an executive of the Samoa Association of General Practitioners, who lives and runs a clinic in her homeland, says Samoa learned to manage a pandemic after having to deal with a measles outbreak at the end of last year, which infected 5,700 people and killing 83, mostly children.
When the Samoan government discovered Covid-19 was spreading across the world, it was one of the first country’s to close its borders.
“Very early on, we knew we had to be proactive because if we didn’t, then it would have been the measles outbreak all over again, which was a horror story and was still fresh in people’s minds. Our response to another threat had to be quick,” says Dr Potoi.
The foresight paid off and the Pacific nation avoided a Covid-19 outbreak. But Dr Potai says the government and the people of Samoa cannot be complacent and still need to adhere to social distancing rules and health guidelines in preparation for the worst-case scenario.
“The measles was a wakeup call, not only for the general public but also for the health system. It showed us how vulnerable we are. If a pandemic like the measles could wipe out close to 100 kids in a short matter of time, then imagine the damage Covid-19 could do?”
“Like the rest of the world, we have to understand that there will be a new normal. It’s a team mentality and everyone has to be on board.”
Within the coming days, the Samoan government will be allowing residents who were overseas before the borders were closed, to return home. Dr Potoi is anxious about those returning despite travelers having to produce a negative Covid-19 test before boarding the plane and adhering to strict quarantine guidelines when they arrive
“The two key issues I have are; when are our tests coming and what does that roll out look like and how are we going to manage contact tracing, in the event Covid-19 comes into the country?”
She says if Covid-19 hits Samoa then they only look to the New Zealand government’s handling of the crisis for inspiration.
“We are observing New Zealand’s response and how well they have done. You’ve got the Prime Minister coming out regularly and preparing people for the next stage and explaining why with clarity and transparency.”
“We have the opportunity to observe this and apply it to ourselves. In Samoa, we adapt to situations, give it a Samoan spin and make it work within our resources and culture.”
Dr Teuila Percival QSO FRACP, an executive member of the Pasifika Medical Association who led a New Zealand medical assistance team during the measles outbreak, commends Samoa for how they’ve responded to Covid-19.
“You look at other Pacific countries, like Tahiti and Guam, and they have many cases. Samoa has shown that if you manage your borders and if you screen people early, then you have good results. I take my hat off to Samoa. They were ahead of the game and they have done a good job.”
Date: Thursday 7 May 2020