Samoa Observer

APIA, Samoa (Jan. 30) – Revelations this week about a hospital in Savai'i distributing medicine by using an empty Pepsi bottle are worrying.

Visitors from New Zealand informed this newspaper about the treatment they received at one of the district hospitals. One day when one of their kids wasn't feeling well, they took her to this hospital.

"You've come here for medicine?" these visitors were asked.

"Yes," they replied.

"Your child must have the fever … did you bring an empty bottle?" they were asked again.

"What for?" was the puzzled reply.

"Our practice is that patients bring empty bottles for their medicine. That's how it's always been."

Desperately searching for a bottle, the nurses realized that there was a bottle of Pepsi there.

"Just hang on a minute while I try to finish off the Pepsi," one nurse said.

When these visitors arrived at the hospital, the power was off. There was no backup power supply and the hospital staff did not have torches.

What's a hospital without a power supply?

In the words of one of the visitors, it was "a shocking experience that they will never forget."

For a country that gives priority to Health alongside Education, it raises questions.

Basic questions such as how safe are these Pepsi bottles for the distribution of medicine? What impact could such treatment have on efforts to build the tourism industry around the country? And why is this happening?

The Health Ministry has been in the news for too many wrong reasons lately.

Away from the financial investigations that have been going on there, we are continuing to hear worrying stories about the service being delivered to the people.

That's the tens of thousands of ordinary people of this country who rely on the public health services run through the Health Ministry.

Not those who can afford to go to private doctors and clinics or the MedCen Hospital up at Vailima. Not those who are able to fly to New Zealand or Australia. But the many people who need the public health service and the public hospitals most. And this includes people in remote parts who don't have the money and means to access big hospitals like Tuasivi in Savai'i and Tupua Tamasese Meaole in Upolu.

This week or next, Cabinet is set to appoint a new chief executive for the Health Ministry. Whoever is appointed needs to be someone prepared and able to get the Health Ministry back on track. It needs to be someone prepared to concentrate on and fix the problems at home before even thinking of flying off to meetings in places like Geneva. Someone who can start fixing the concerns of doctors and nurses about the pressures they face. Someone who can start stopping Health professionals leaving for better opportunities overseas. Someone who can start making sure that the public health service is something to be proud of and not something dogged by controversies.

Someone who can make sure bottles of Pepsi don't have to be quickly drunk so people have something to take their medicine home in.

February 3, 2005

Samoa Observer: www.samoaobserver.ws/

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