Samoan tattooing steps up health safety as two new cases of HIV/AIDS are confirmed

BY Lagi Keresoma

APIA, SAMOA – THURSDAY 01 SEPTEMBER 2016: The Ministry of Health has confirmed 2 news cases of HIV/AIDS now dealt with by the ministry.

The HIV/AIDS & Health Educator Robert Carney told Talamua that the cases recently brought to their knowledge is a young man from overseas, who got an arm piece tattoo from one of the local artists.

And since the man was diagnosed with HIV/AIDs after he got a tattoo, people assumed it had something to do with tattooing.

According Robert Carney, the young man went to the hospital after a week since he had the tattoo. He was complaining about pains and his arm started to swell and after he was tested, the result came back positive.

“The National Health Service (NHS) staff were quick to offer support to the young man through counseling,” said Carney.

Asked if the virus was spread through the tools used for tattooing, Carney said “no”.

“He was already infected with the HIV/AIDs virus before he had the tattoo,” said Carney.

According to Carney, Samoa had 24 positive cases of HIV/AIDs as of May this year, and 11 from that number are still alive. This excludes the 2 new cases.

“Nine are treated locally and the other 2 are treated privately overseas,” Carney explained.

HIV/AIDs Infection Control campaign
After the MOH and NHS realized that the young man had been tattooed locally, they quickly set up an “Infection Control Campaign” that included all the tattoo artists or tufuga in a meeting yesterday.

The meeting discussed ways to safeguard not only the tufugas and their assistants at work, but also their clients.

An outcome of yesterday’s meeting now requires clients to provide a health report before they sign the consent form to start the tattooing. There is a need for all tufugas to be registered or have a license to practice, and their tattooing equipment need to be sterilized using proper equipment for treatment to ensure the safety of clients.

“There’s a lot of movement of people from overseas coming to Samoa and wanted to have tattoos, and they have to provide confirmation of their health for their protection as well as that of the  tufugas and their assistants,” explains the Director General of Health Leausa Toleafoa Dr. Naseri.

Master tattoo artist Su’a Suluape Petelo said that very few tattoo artists in Samoa have the proper equipment to sterilize their equipment such as needles as most if not all are now using needles as traditional pigs teeth do not survive when treated for safety using the proper sterilizing equipment.

Despite the young man being infected prior to getting the tattoo, the tools used by the tufuga on the infected client, could be used again on another person, and this could create a bigger problem, said Carney.

“There is a need to educate them and everyone, and create access to the infection control campaign information.”
Carney said yesterdays consultation with the tufugas was a success.

“The tufuga’s were very open during the consultation, and have supported the idea of testing anyone who wanted a tattoo first to ensure everyone’s’ safety,” he said.