PMA Scholarships 2021: International award motivates recipient to stay the course with further studies

Belonging to a family of accountants, Toleafoa Manu-falealili Dr Viali Lameko decided not to follow the same career path as both of his parents and five siblings. Instead, he focused on medicine and became a doctor.

The years of sacrifice and studies have paid off for the Samoan born and raised medical leader. He is the former Vice Chancellor of the Oceania University of Medicine in Samoa and last year was the recipient of the Pasifika Medical Association (PMA) Sir Terepai Tuamure Maoate International Study Award, for his current PhD studies on obesity and the impact of nutrition on Pacific communities.

“The prevalence of obesity among Samoan adults has dramatically increased over the past four decades and is now affecting men and women on this small island.  Unless there is a concerted effort across all levels of our society to curb this obesity problem, the health profile and the future of our people is full of uncertainty.”

Obesity is not the only health issue that Dr Viali has championed. During the 2019 measles epidemic, which claimed more than 80 Samoan lives, Dr Viali was the first member of Samoa’s medical fraternity to speak out and called for a national commission inquiry into what caused the measles crisis.

“I was named after one of my dad’s friends, who is a doctor. When he passed away, everyone started calling me ‘Dr Viali”, even when I was still a child. I inherited that concept and wound up pursuing medicine as a career.

My goal is to strengthen health research in Samoa, to inform policies and strategic plans within the health sector. Then I want to work towards collaborative studies with other institutions in the Pacific and Ministries of Health to make a difference.”

Dr Viali’s passion for leadership and service aligns with the values and work ethic of the late Sir Terepai Tuamure Maoate, the namesake of the PMA award that Dr Viali received last year.

Born in Rarotonga and educated in Fiji and Auckland, Sir Terepai worked as a medical doctor in the Cook Islands before forging a political career to eventually become the Prime Minister of his homeland.  

The Sir Terepai Tuamure Maoate award is valued at $20,000 and will be presented to an indigenous Pacific-based doctor or nurse undertaking their studies at an international institution. Previous recipients have studied at Harvard and Stanford universities.

Dr Viali, whose father was a Member of Parliament in Samoa for 30 years, holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Auckland University, a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery from the Fiji School of Medicine and a Masters of Global Health from the University of Sydney.

He says receiving the PMA scholarship has given him the incentive to complete another course of study at the National University of Samoa. In fact, he recently stepped down from his prominent position as Vice-Chancellor of the Oceania University of Medicine to focus on his PhD.

“Getting this scholarship not only has given me the financial support but also the motivation to continue with my doctorate studies. It has lifted another financial burden off my shoulders, especially for us working and living in the islands.”

Dr Viali has three adult children who have followed in his footsteps and are studying medicine at university.

“I knew I wanted at least one of my children to take up medicine but was surprised that all three wanted to pursue this career. I feel it is our family calling to serve our country and the region as medical officers.”

To apply for the Sir Terepai Tuamure Maoate International Study Award and other PMA Scholarships on offer, please visit the link below:

www.pacifichealth.org.nz/2021-pacific-health-education-scholarships/

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Date: Friday 18 June 2021