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Samoa’s new advanced CT Scanner to improve health service and save expenses

By Talaia Mika

APIA, SAMOA – 01 DECEMBER 2022: Samoa is on the road to improve the health of its people and reduce expenses with the launch of the much needed new and advanced USD$1.5million Computerized Tomography Scanner yesterday.

The 256-Slice CT Scanner takes super-fast pictures of a patients organs using X-rays and display the images in three-dimensional (3D) format on a computer monitor.

By providing much more detail, the 256-slice CT scan helps experts detect the early stages of a disease affecting a patient so that they can get early treatment and prevention from progressing further.

Samoa has been without a CT scanner for almost two years and patients were sent to American Samoa and New Zealand to be scanned at a huge cost to the health budget.

When the FAST government took over in mid-2021, the Minister of Health, Valasi Tafito Selesele pushed to purchase a new CT scanner following a meeting with members of the Medical Association.

The vital and advanced piece of equipment was funded by the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) and its Board Chairman, Leo’o Tautalatasi Dr. John Adams cut the ribbon to officially launch the CT Scanner in a brief ceremony attended by the Minister of Health, Valasi Tafito Selesele, the Minister of ACC, Leatinuu Wayne Sooialo and senior health officials.

The Acting Director General of Health, Dr. Glenn Fatupaito said there has been a dramatic increase in the number of patients needing CT scans a year from the average of 1500.

However, this advanced diagnostic tool helps health officials to mitigate the long waiting queue of patients as well as reducing expenses on having to send patients overseas for treatment.

CT scanner (2)
CT scanner (2)

Some of the guests at the equipment launch.

“This CT Scanner is good for basically anything like brain tumours, looking inside our internal organs and bones so it’s our first line of investigation that we use 256 slices which means the number of images it can take in basically one rotation in a few seconds; so the entire scanner is over within two minutes,” he explained.

“In 2008, we had our first CT Scanner which was a single slice CT Scanner which took several minutes to do. With this 256 CT scanner, it’s completed in less than two or three minutes so it’s very advanced and it gives us the images we need to diagnose patients and hopefully reduce expenses from sending patients overseas,” said Dr. Fatupaito.

But buying the scanner and getting it to work after two years without one, faced several difficulties. The most recent was getting the permanent Key Licence from the suppliers in China. Without the Key License, the scanner shuts down and needed to be activated by the suppliers. This was because there was a balance for the full cost of the equipment.

“We could only get the permanent Key Licence once the remaining 10% balance was paid off and that has been done and we’ve got our permanent key code and we’re good to go for the long run. So I thank the ACC Minister Leatinuu for the completion of this,” said Minister Valasi Tafito Selesele.

The cost for a scan per person for overseas scans and treatment ranges between NZD$700 and NZD$1000 but Dr. Fatupaito said it’s more than that as it comes in a bundle including the CT Scans, the investigation and the treatment.

Meanwhile, the old CT Scanner is out of order but MOH has obtained the spare parts to repair it this weekend and should be up and running next week.

Dr. Fatupaito said they will be using the old scanner as a backup and sees it as a milestone for Samoa in improving the health of its people going forward.

Shortage of certified radiologists
One of the urgent challenges is the fact that Samoa only has one radiologist who can read images of the CT scanner. He is Dr Keil Adams and he is concerned that there is no one to share the load with especially having time off work.

The other qualified person is Dr Glen Fatupaito but he has been moved to administration as the Acting Director of Health.

Dr. Adams explained that his role is to read CT-Scan images and only he is certified to do this despite that there are technicians and other employees in the hospital who can operate the scanner.