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Pacific Mission 2024: Samoa’s next generation of health workers get help from New Zealand

Grace Tinetali-Fiavaai

Budding doctors, nurses and healthcare workers in Samoa have got a headstart thanks to a $3.5 million boost from New Zealand to help with the establishment of a new degree.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

The National University of Samoa has marked a significant milestone in the official launch of its new Bachelor of Health Science programme, which opened for enrolment this year.

The announcement was made by Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters and Pacific People’s and Health Minister Dr Shane Reti, who visited the campus during their Pacific Mission tour of Tonga, the Cook Islands and Samoa last week.

As well as helping with the development and delivery of the degree over the next five years, the funds will also be used to pay for scholarships and student support services.

For working mother-of-two Masina Tuimauga-Sa, it has allowed her an opportunity to further her education and develop her skill set.

The 32-year-old works as a nutritionist for Samoa’s health ministry and says the profession is in short supply in the islands.

She is one of 25 students enrolled in the new degree and says she and her family consider it a blessing and another life opportunity.

“This is a second chance for me. It will help bridge the affordability gap.”

Tuimauga-Sa, who is doing the course part-time, travels to villages to educate people on various nutrition health hacks.

A need to strengthen Samoa’s health workforce

This scholarship has enabled more health workers, particularly allied workers who are already in the workforce, to obtain the qualifications and skills required to gain a deeper understanding.

The programme was initially developed in 2020 after New Zealand’s foreign affairs and trade officials and Samoan health officials recognised the need to strengthen the island country’s primary care and allied health workforce.

Full-time student 18-year-old Hannoch Fa’aiuga, who attended Samoa College, acknowledges that New Zealand’s help has allowed him to get the qualifications he needs to get to where he wants to be one day.

“This is a huge opportunity and a blessing for me and my family. It’s one less school bill to handle, especially during this rising cost of living here in Samoa.”

His dream is to become a medical laboratorist and hopes to be a role model for future generations.

NUS vice chancellor, Tuifuisaʻa Patila Amosa, says without this funding assistance, the university would be unable to develop this programme.

Programme co-ordinator and senior lecturer at NUS, Gordon Dow, says medical laboratory science has the highest student enrolment.

All students enrolled in the course are covered for three years - whether they are studying part-time or full-time.

But he acknowledged that there may need to be more done earlier in the schooling system, so students who dream of working in the health sector can qualify to enrol in the course in the first place.

“An access path needs to be established so that there are pathways to the programme,” Dow said.

Looking ahead, NUS envisions the Bachelor of Health Science programme becoming a beacon of excellence in healthcare education, alongside the existing programmes in Medicine and Nursing.

Hero Image: L-R: Hannoch Faaiuga, 18, and Masina Tuimauga-Sa, 32, are among the first cohort of students studying for a Bachelor of Health Science at the National University of Samoa. Photo / Grace Tinetali-Fiavaai

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