State of emergency declared in Samoa over measles epidemic

By Jessica Tyson

Acting Prime Minister Faimalotoa Kika Stowers has announced a state of emergency because of the outbreak and spread of measles in Samoa.

It comes after six measles deaths have occurred and at least 700 measles cases have been reported.

The Director-General of Health Leausa Dr Take Naseri says Samoa’s low immunisation coverage is a main contributing factor to the fatalities recorded so far since the epidemic was declared two weeks ago.  

He says the deaths - mostly children under two years old - are attracting attention and also questions about the performance of the health sector in enforcing preventative measures prior to the epidemic.

“Compared to Tonga, Fiji and American Samoa, which are also on the measles epidemic mode, neither of the three countries have reported any measles-related or confirmed deaths.”

At a press conference on Friday, he acknowledged that it is unfortunate and sad that lives have been lost but says the fact remains that the young children who died were unvaccinated.

“The problem started in 2008-2009, only 41 percent of the population were immunised. So if by now only 66 percent of the population has been immunised, then one-third of the population is vulnerable to the virus, which includes the six confirmed deaths,” Leausa said.

He also said that Tonga, Fiji and American Samoa’s immunisation coverage are in the 90 percent neighbourhood but not Samoa.

The vaccination programme is not compulsory and depends entirely on the freedom of choice of parents to have their children vaccinated, he said.

Dr Naseri predicts that the worst has yet to come, noting that with the number of cases and deaths reported coupled with the poor vaccination coverage.

As of this week, 716 clinically suspected measles cases have been reported. A total of 98 have been admitted into the Motootua National Hospital, with 15 admitted into the intensive care unit. As well as that, 29 measles patients have been admitted to district hospitals around the country.

To accommodate the expected increasing numbers, the old emergency and outpatient ward at Motootua has been turned into a makeshift isolation facility to accommodate those severely affected.