Director: Decline of WHO funds due to issues with previous DOH leaders
Although it still receives financial support from the World Health Organization, there has however been a decrease in the funding amount allocated for the local Health Department, says Health director Motusa Tuileama Nua, who faulted previous DOH leaders for the decline in WHO financial help for American Samoa.
Over the years, WHO has provided a variety of support — financial and human resources — to American Samoa and other Pacific islands, and Samoa News understands that several years ago DOH received, at times, about $300,000. WHO money also funded travel in the past for DOH senior officials to attend off-island meetings.
During his recent confirmation hearing, Motusa was asked about programs provided to DOH by WHO, to which the Health director explained that American Samoa used to get WHO funding in past years, but due to issues with previous DOH leaders, American Samoa funding is down to a current amount of $70,000 and this money goes directly to the ASG Treasurer.
Motusa didn’t elaborate on how much American Samoa used to get, but he explained that WHO funds target programs for non-communicable diseases, communicable diseases and fellowships — financing education for local students attending medical schools in Pacific countries, such as Fiji.
Currently, there is a student attending medical school in Fiji with one year left for a Bachelors degree in laboratory service, said Motusa, who noted that they are working on sending two students to dentistry school — also in Fiji — if American Samoa continues to receive these special funds from WHO, which has an office in Apia, Samoa that works with local health officials.
Asked by a committee member about nurses and doctors to staff the DOH clinics on Ofu and Ta’u Island in Manu’a, Motusa said that the nurse for Ofu had recently returned to work, while nurses from Tutuila are being rotated to Ta’u.
Additionally, DOH is searching for a physician to reside on Ta’u to serve the Manu’a islands, said Motusa.
Securing medical professions to live and work in Manu’a has been a long-standing challenge for DOH over the years because it is difficult to entice them — both nurses and doctors — to live and work in the island group. There were times in the past that DOH was able to secure a physician, but it never seems to last long.
During Motusa’s confirmation, senators praised DOH’s health inspection team, making unannounced visits to restaurants and small eatery places. The senate urged DOH to continue this important work throughout Tutuila, with one senator saying that there are several eatery places in the Western District that should be visited. It was also suggested that the inspection team take a look at the eatery places located in the Fagatogo Market Place.
Samoa News reported in a story it published on April 28, 2011, that then Health Department deputy director Elizabeth Ponausuia, who was at the time appointed by Gov. Togiola Tulafono to become the director of the Health Department, was the subject in a March 2008 Senate Select Investigative Committee (SSIC) report alleging that thousands of dollars from the World Health Organization (WHO) account administered by the Department of Health (DOH) were used for personal expenses by Ponausuia. The report claims that Ponausuia, who was serving as the DOH deputy director then, used the account to pay her personal loan and for other personal expenses.
When Samoa News offered her an opportunity to respond in April of 2008 to the SSIC report allegations, Ponausuia declined. SSIC forwarded their report to the then Togiola Administration for review and action, but to the best of our knowledge no action was ever taken.
Ponausuia was not confirmed as Director of Health Department, but continues to work for the DOH.