Faleulu Papalii (translator), Dr Melanie Webster and Clare Stowers (Medical Receptionist and Healthcare Assistant)
“Checking inhaler techniques has led to some interesting demonstrations including patients spraying the inhaler on their neck. I’ve been educating the nurses and pharmacists about the importance of patients understanding what their medications are for and how to take them – I’m hopeful that this has been some of my most helpful work.”
Dr Api Talemaitoga, Chair of the College Pacific Chapter, says Melanie’s work in Samoa to educate health professionals around health literacy is essential and that GPs working in New Zealand also need to be mindful when treating Pasifika patients.
“Just because someone has moved to Aotearoa, doesn’t mean their health literacy levels have raised automatically. As GPs in New Zealand, we need to be very aware when talking about all aspects of health, particularly screening programmes and explain why it’s so important.”
While Melanie expected late presentation to be a challenge due to geographical access to clinics, refusal of treatment came as a surprise.
“There is widespread use of traditional healers in the community and unfortunately, still a level of distrust in mainstream medicine. It’s particularly heart-breaking to see people have poor outcomes from conditions that could be cured if they (or the head of the family) would consent to it.”
Similarly to New Zealand, there is a cost barrier for people to get medical treatment in Samoa. A hospital outpatient visit costs $10ST (approx $6NZD), a GP visit is $15-25ST (there is no government funding for Primary Care) and a blood test is $5ST.
“To put that into perspective, minimum wage is $2.50ST per hour but 70-80% of the population are not in formal employment and live off the land so these relatively small amounts present a large barrier for many.”
With four weeks left of her Samoan adventure, Melanie says she’d recommend it to College members wanting a change of scenery, “it’s been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.”
Volunteers and Locums are welcome in Savai’I, if you’re interested please email Dr Nola (firstname.lastname@example.org).