USDA Invests in telehealth network between American Samoa and the University of Hawaii

American Samoa is a US Territory located 2,600 miles from Hawaii and shut down its border to all commercial flights and shipping on March 13, 2020 to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to its 55,000 residents. This left the OBGYN physicians and pregnant women in American Samoa completely isolated from the outside world, except for what could be accessed via telehealth, email, texting, and Facetime. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, our patients on our neighbor islands and US Territories have difficulty accessing essential women’s health services that are available in Honolulu. With the innovative support of the Pacific Basin Telehealth Resource Center, we developed a Zoom-collaboration with Dr. Dmitri Oleanski, Director of Telehealth at the Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) Tropical Medical Center to work with Drs. Bethel Muasau-Howard and Ianeta Timoteo, both OBGYN physicians LBJ and former partners of our own Dr. Kareem Khoziam (UHP Hilo), to prepare this application to the US Department of Agriculture for funding to support a telehealth network between American Samoa and the University of Hawaii. This ambitious project provides $677,675 to LBJ and their outlying village clinics for telehealth equipment in hopes of increasing access to women’s healthcare and imaging services while reducing healthcare inequities for some of the most rural and isolated populations in the Pacific. We are thrilled that the USDA recognized the following statement in our application, “For pregnant women who live on Ofu or Ta’u, prenatal care requires an eight-hour boat ride to Tutuila to visit the only hospital in the territory. The proposed project and partnership with the University of Hawaii will deliver direct services to patients in American Samoa and build the capacity of the local health care providers through the provision of teleguidance and distance learning in Maoputasi, Ta’u, Ofu and Tualauta counties.”

Men-Jean Lee, MD
Kosasa Endowed Professor
MFM Division Chief

Telemedicine was once a distant dream and now a very practical tool to advance women’s healthcare. It is a true miracle that erases time and distance barriers and brings medicine closer to our patients wherever they are. COVID19 has accelerated the use of this virtual reality to serve patients. We are so proud of our faculty Drs. Kareem Khozaim and Men-Jean Lee who spearheaded collaborative telemedicine efforts with our colleagues at LBJ Tropical Medical Center in Faga’alu, American Samoa: Drs. Bethel Musau, Iantea Timoteo and Dmitri Orleanski. We are looking forward to providing advanced healthcare for the women of American Samoa.

Ivica Zalud, MD, PhD, FACOG, FAIUM
Professor and Chair
Kosasa Endowed Chair