A USDA rural development grant has resulted in big gains for prenatal healthcare for pregnant women in American Samoa. The $667,665 grant, part of $42 million for rural development across the United States and its territories, will be used to establish a maternal telemedicine network at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Tropical Medical Center, the only hospital in American Samoa, working in collaboration with the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM).
Years of working together on continuing education, distance learning, health workforce development, cancer prevention, control, and surveillance and telehealth laid the foundational groundwork for receiving this grant.
“Samoa is a lovely place with a rich Polynesian culture. It is relatively isolated, its population is about 55,000 people, and there is definitely a shortage of doctors,” said Kareem Khozaim, an associate professor at JABSOM and a University Health Partners physician. Khozaim worked and lived in American Samoa from 2014 to 2017.
Khozaim added, “Women there are eager for prenatal care and they would prefer to stay in American Samoa rather than fly to Honolulu for specialist services. The grant will make it possible for improvements such as new diagnostic and telehealth equipment so pregnant women living across four different islands can receive maternal-fetal medicine specialist services. Together, we help them manage pregnancy conditions on the ground, and coordinate transport for those with serious issues to Hawaiʻi.”
Additional funding to train healthcare workers
“Back in 2016–2018 when the Zika virus was severely impacting American Samoa, the CDC provided funding for an ultrasound machine. We found a high-definition ultrasound machine that was reconditioned and repurposed, so we helped them purchase it,” said Men-Jean Lee, chief of maternal-fetal medicine at JABSOM. “That machine was able to detect Zika-related anomalies in the fetus. However, during a visit, we discovered that no one there knew how to run the machine.”
A collaboration between JABSOM’s Lee Buenconsejo-Lum, Lee, Khozaim, as well a Christina Higa and Ginger Porter of UH Mānoa’s Pacific Basin Telehealth Resource Center, was created in response to the USDA’s call for proposals to secure additional, more sophisticated ultrasound and telehealth equipment for American Samoa.
“Everyone is so grateful and excited for the grant, but it only pays for equipment,” Lee said. “So we are looking for additional funding for a team from UH Mānoa and JABSOM to teach healthcare workers there how to use the equipment and assist with the launch of this telemedicine program. These types of services and missions are an important part of JABSOM.”
Read more on the JABSOM website.