POST-TSUNAMI SAMOA FACING HEALTH CRISIS

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Expert says resistant germs could cause widespread problems

APIA, Samoa (Samoa Observer, Oct. 31, 2009) – Samoa faces a medical crisis in the wake of the tsunami with the discovery of dangerous levels of drug resistant organisms which could lead to hundreds of amputations, a medical expert warns.

People who survived the September 29 disaster are also suffering chronic "tsunami lung" shortening their lives, the head of Pacific Health at Auckland University, Dr Teuila Percival, said.

Asked for a comment yesterday, Frances Brebner, Acting Director General of the Ministry of Health, said a response will be provided. By press time, it had not arrived.

Dr Percival, however, was in Samoa during the tsunami and worked with New Zealand’s emergency medical team.

Some 143 people were killed when the tsunami struck the south coast of Upolu.

A paediatrician, Dr Percival said pre-school children made up a big portion of the dead.

Multi-resistant organisms (MROs) are resistant to common antibiotics and when they are located in Western countries wards are usually closed down until they can be cleared.

Samoa did not have the technical ability or the medication to deal with MROs although it was going to hit thousands of people.

"We are concerned about the MROs and we have seen them in the tsunami people who have come to New Zealand," Dr Percival said.

Chronic infections will get worse. Wounded people treated could be in trouble if infected with MROs.

"If you don’t have antibiotics, the only way to treat them is through amputation."

She said this will occur over the next few months and she feared it would affect hundreds of people.

Many people also suffer tsunami lung caused by high pressure polluted sea water hitting the lungs.

Many Samoans now have chronic lung disease which will stay with them for their life.

"The way to treat it through aggressive antibiotics, aggressive chest physiotherapy and really good nutrition and that is how you keep people alive.

"Samoa cannot afford the antibiotics and is short of physios.

An affected child may grow new lung tissue.

"Adults are worse and the adults will be respiratory cripples and in Samoa it will be hugely life-limiting….It will shorten their lives."

Dr Percival said the crisis medical work – she termed the "quick and the dirty" –worked well for a fortnight.

Medical aid had now dried up other than the Samoan Nurses Association in New Zealand. Their nurses pay their own way and costs.

Dr Percival said Samoa’s medical staff were exhausted but now had to deal with major post traumatic stress with an upsurge of violence and alcoholism.

Many people who survived the tsunami lost their diabetes and hypertension medications which had not been replaced.

They were creating new medical problems.

"We are advocating very strongly for our colleagues up there who haven’t had a day off since the tsunami. How are they are supposed to cope with all this extra work? They are on their own apart from the volunteer Samoan nurses from New Zealand," she said.The problem isn’t over. Dr Percival was critical of New Zealand for leaving injured nationals in Apia Hospital, taking up bed space, while Australia evacuated their nationals immediately.

"New Zealand was slow when compared with the Australians to get their citizens out and that’s a problem," she said.

"Australia was so quick, New Zealanders were so slow. I hope they don’t do that all the time.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said they had received no complaints.

"In the days following staff visited hospitals at least twice a day, and spent considerable time during each visit talking to New Zealanders and offering consular assistance to ensure the welfare of any injured New Zealanders was met," the ministry said.

Australian citizens were medivaced on an Australian Air Force plane from Samoa on October 1. New Zealand citizens were medivaced the following day on a RNZAF flight.

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