Tongan patient ‘should have been told not to release info’, says Health chief

Tonga's Health Minister Associate Professor ‘Amelia Tu’ipulotu
Tonga's Health Minister Associate Professor ‘Amelia Tu’ipulotu ... protecting a suspected covid patient's privacy. Image: Tongan govt screenshot KT

By Kalino Latu in Auckland

Health Ministry Chief Executive Dr Siale ‘Akau’ola says the ministry had not responded to allegations made on social media to protect the privacy of a suspected covid-19 patient.

He said the ministry had been very careful not to release any information that might identify the person.

He said the patient should have been advised not to release any information.

Dr ‘Akau’ola said information had been released through various channels, which had caused problems.

Prime Minister’s concerns
During yesterday’s press conference a journalist asked why the patient was allowed to contact other people on his mobile phone.

He said this was why there were concerns in the social media that the government should take the situation seriously because what had been leaked from the MIQ included information that was unreliable.

He asked Prime Minister Pōhiva Tuʻiʻonetoa to make a firm decision on the claim.

In his response, Tuʻiʻonetoa said he had just received a message on his mobile phone and was disappointed with what had been revealed in it.

The Prime Minister did not go into details on what he had received, but it appeared it was a video clip which had been widely shared on Facebook purporting to show the patient talking to what appeared to be family members on a mobile phone while the conversation was being recorded on another phone.

Tonga’s Dr Siale 'Akauola
Chief executive of Tonga’s Ministry of Health Dr Siale ‘Akau’ola … another test expected today for the patient. Image: Kaniva Tonga/Christine Rovoi/RNZ Pacific

Serious accusations
In that conversation serious accusations were made against the government, including claims that it was lying to the public when it said the patient had been taken to the Mu’a MIQ on Saturday.

The patient said he had been taken on Monday.

During the conversation the patient said he had tested negative, but the ministry kept on telling the public the test was positive.

Dr ‘Akau’ola said two tests must be carried out to confirm a negative result. The patient’s second test would be today.

Kaniva News reported yesterday that Dr ‘Akau’ola had said the patient had returned a weak positive result and had now tested negative.

The Prime Minister said: “I have listened to it (the recording of the conversation) and I did not like the attitude of their conversation and it said the patient was taken to Mu’a MIQ,” the Prime Minister said.

Tu’i’onetoa asked the meeting for his officials to clarify when the patient was taken to the MIQ.

“I want to confirm that,” he said.

Respect for the patient
The Minister of Health and her CEO were looking at each other before the CEO apologised to the Prime Minister and the conference, saying it was true the patient was taken on Monday not Saturday as he was advised, because of some paper work issues.

The CEO said the ministry highly respected the patient.

“We wanted to protect his identity,” Dr ‘Akau’ola said.

“He is carrying a huge burden and the people’s concerns as well.

“As I look at it there was a weakness as he should have been given proper counselling advice for him not to release any information.

“However, we learnt from this”, the CEO said.

Family members
This morning some family members of the patient were concerned that some posts on Facebook targeted the patient’s paternal side.

The posts included one which said the problem was that the family should not have released the identity of the patient to the public because it would backfire on them.

Another said the whole family could be stigmatised by the situation, something that is extremely common in Tonga.

It said some families or clans were stigmatised with “kilia”, the Tongan word for leprosy, in the past. Nowadays it was a stigma that people used to identify those families whenever there was any dissatisfaction with them.

Republished with permission.

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