A Mother’s Perspective on a Child’s Right to Health in the Samoan Context

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Malili Fao Avau Te'o Pelema. PC: South Pacific Community SPC

Speech delivered by the first Mrs Vaiee for the Vaiee Maupaolo Pageant, and member of Vaiee’s Safety and Development Committee, Afioga Malili Fao Avau Te’o Pelema.

Malili Fao Avau Te’o Pelema. PC: South Pacific Community SPC

UN CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD
“DIALOGUE ON THE RIGHT TO HEALTH OF CHILDREN
THE SAMOAN CONTEXT”
“E mamae le Tava’e i ona fulu”
Madam Moderators, Honourable Members of the CRC Committee,
Honourable Government officials and Members of NGOs, Distinguished Guests

Talofa lava.
It is my honour and pleasure to address you this morning here at Taumeasina.
Right to Health – Samoan Context
As a mother of seven (7) children, the safety and health of my infant children is in my hands. From the 9 months pregnancy until the children are grown up, a child’s health is primarily in the hands of me as the mother.

Undoubtedly, when the children become unwell, people say:” It’s the mother’s fault, he has neglected her motherly duties and that’s why the children are sick!”
As a mother I try to ensure that our home environment is maintained to a high standard of cleanliness and I have prepared a vegetable garden to provide healthy meals for my children and the whole family.
As a mother, I not only prioritise a clean home, I ensure that there are effective sanitation and bathroom facilities, clean bedding and also clean kitchen facilities for preparing family meals. It is also essential to have clean drinking water or to boil drinking water if required. I am also primarily responsible for ensuring the bathing of the children and ensuring that laundry is cleaned and dried properly.

It is no wonder that Samoans refer to mothers as “the life of the family” You see, when a mother neglects her roles within the family, it may sometimes result in our children being sickly, not only physically but also mentally.
Understandably though, there are times when, despite all efforts, children will fall ill because some illnesses are viral or spread in the air. In other words, no matter how clean I maintain my house and no matter how much effort I make to care of my children, they may still become ill with contagious illnesses or common maladies like fever, coughs or the flu.

The panel of speakers at the Side Event: Dialogue on the Right to Health of Children.

“First Assistance” Traditional Medicine and Healers
Most Samoan mothers understand the usefulness of our traditional and natural medicines and herbs used to heal children’s illnesses.

Example: “Fuefuesina is useful for fever, fue manogi is used to treat the flu, fua nonu is used for coughs, coconut water is prescribed when a child suffers from blockage of nostrils after birth, referred to as “la’ofia”.
I refer to these plants as “the first response tools” for any Samoan mother.

Example: The other “first response” for children when they fall ill, is to take them to a traditional healer called a “taulasea” Samoa for Samoan massage to be applied.
If a child is born with a birthmark, parents will engage the services of a traditional healer to massage the birthmark to prevent it from spreading further.
If a child falls, or sprains an ankle, the traditional healer is often asked to massage the “brokenness” (gau) within the child.

The use of traditional medicine or herbs, traditional massage and healing methods has proven successful in many instances. Not only that, but the reason that I have prioritized these as the “first response” is because the plants are readily accessible in my local environment, I do not have to pay for these and the assistance of local traditional healers within my own village avoids having to travel far from my home.
Medical Care from Hospitals and Doctors

If at any time, my child suffers a serious wound, an uncommon illness, an accident or a serious injury, it is only then that I will seek the assistance of a medical professional, travel to the District Hospital or I may have to travel to the main National Hospital in the city centre of Apia.
As a woman from the rural area of Safata, (South Coast of Upolu) I have a choice of 2 District hospitals within 30 minutes travel time from where I live.

A health Clinic at Saanapu, only has one visit per week from a qualified doctor while the other nearby District Hospital at Poutasi, runs similarly.
One of the obstacles faced by me as a mother, is the lack of finance to pay for a vehicle to take my child to the District Hospital and insufficient funds to pay for medicine, even though the cost is quite low. In addition, the District hospitals often have insufficient supply of medicines and antibiotics available and this means I will need to spend money to travel to a pharmacy in Apia (the main town). In other words, this means more expense.

If my child needs to be hospitalized in a District Hospital it means that only nurses are available to provide medical attention, as no Doctors are available on a regular basis.

Ministry of Health and Women’s Committees
in earlier years as a child, I recall that “First Aid Kits” were available at medical posts within every village and each village also had a village “Health Committee” run and managed by women.
There were regular monthly visits by nurses and a Doctor to rural villages to record new births, to weigh babies and keep records of their progress and also to vaccinate young infants. The National Hospital had a “Public Health” division which also visited the villages and had a close relationship with each village.

These monthly visits provided the opportunity to discuss problems faced by new mothers and the medical staff would also provide information and guidelines to ensure that child health care was improved and maintained.

I believe that the revival of close working relationships between the Ministry of Health and the Village Women’s Committees especially in rural areas would be greatly beneficial. Especially since women’s committees in most villages are still operating and are able to coordinate and ensure that all women of the village are in attendance for any meetings or village projects.

In my personal opinion, the 2019 measles epidemic proves my point, that the lack of any linkage and collaboration between the Ministry of Health and Women’s Committees in rural areas, proved fatal. I firmly believe that if the partnership between the Ministry of Health and Women’s Committees had continued, the epidemic would not have been as severe.

It is crucial for the Ministry of Health to work collaboratively with families of Samoa, and especially women, who must receive health information so that they are empowered and educated to care for their children and maintain excellent health. Health is not just for the benefit of women or the Ministry of Health but for the benefit of the general public.

Dialogue on the Right to Health of Children – in the Samoan context

Obstacles to Receiving Health Services for Children
• Mothers must prioritise and clearly understand the importance of maintaining her own personal health, the health of her husband and their children’s health. They should also clearly understand the ways to access health services.
• Priority must be given to both physical and mental health because many children suffer poor mental health through threats, bullying and insulting words within their family.
• “Prevention is better than cure”- The Ministry of Health need to prioritize programmes on preventive measures to ensure better health. “It is too late to put on your hat when the rain has begun to fall”

• It is high time that the Government empowers rural villages and Women’s Committees to plan and implement their own health programmes – designed by villages themselves to suit the health priorities for the children of each respective village. These programmes can be monitored closely by the Ministry of Health.

“Best Interest of the Child” – Where does it Lie?

At the beginning of my presentation, I described some examples of traditional Samoan medical treatments for Children. These are treatments and methods that have been used for centuries and to the present day. However we must consider what the best alternatives are available to meet the needs of our children.

There are times when our lack of money and poverty are used as an excuse to avoid seeking the best available medical services to ensure the treatment and cure of our children’s illness and achieve better health. If mothers can afford to attend Church Bingo sessions twice a week and fathers can afford alcohol every week, then a family can afford to take their children to the Doctor or to the Hospital in the first instance. It is a matter of adjusting priorities.

It is not uncommon in the Samoan context, for family members to debate which is the best treatment for a child’s malady. However, I believe that mothers should make the final decision and seek the best cure available for her children and choose to take her child to hospital in the first instance. Doctors have been medically trained and able to provide the best medical advice, children should be taken to hospital in the first instance. Doctors provide their best service to ensure good health for all people, especially children. Traditional herbs and medicine should be the second choice.

”Prevention is better than Cure…” Children need to live in clean conditions with excellent sanitation and cleanliness of the whole family.

It is extremely important for the Ministry of Health to collaborate with other Ministries of Government for the promotion of CRC.
It is essential that the principles of CRC are prioritized and explained clearly to the general public and particularly the Child’s Right to Health, so that the best health outcomes can be achieved to the highest degree.

 

The Child’s Right to Health

• We must all accept, respect and strengthen the right of every child to Health and to attain a healthy life.

• Prioritize the importance of every child having equal access to the highest standard of healthcare to achieve health.

• Prepare to prevent rather than to cure.

Conclusion

• It is crucial for us all to understand the CRC

• All children should enjoy the Right to Health and receive treatment and protection for a healthy life.

• The right to a healthy life is based on living in a healthy environment

• The child’s right to health begins with me, the mother.

• As the “Tava’e” bird treasures it’s feathers, so a mother treasures her children.

Soifua ma Ia Manuia
Malili Fao Avau Te’o Pelema
Vaie’e Safata, Samoa.

Malili Fao Avau Te’o Pelema