Women, Chiefs can combat measles epidemic

Women’s committees and village councils can help prevent Samoa's measles outbreak from spreading, the Minster of Women, Community and Social Development (M.W.C.S.D.) says.

With seven confirmed cases of the highly contagious disease and the death of a child who was highly suspected to have caught measles, the Ministry of Health declared an epidemic on Wednesday morning.

Tuitama Dr Talalelei Tuitama, the former Minister of Health who is today at the helm of M.W.C.S.D., said without the leadership of the villages, it will be hard to spread the message of the importance of immunisation.

 “It would be an understatement to say the role of women is very vital in the care for the children, especially vulnerable ones," he said. 

“We are encouraging the women to be in the forefront and to lead the efforts by [the Ministry of Health] to immunise the children.”

Village councils are the highest local authorities and, with their endorsement, immunisation rates could go up, he suggested.

“If the women and chiefs are not supportive, then it’s a matter of individual choice whether to risk their children getting the disease or to prevent them from getting it," he said. 

“There is no law to enforce them to have their children vaccinated, except the law of nature when you have it in your conscience that if you child gets it, other children in contact with your child will also be exposed to danger and it may result into drastic events for other children.

“It’s a sense of responsibility, and community cooperation". 

With vaccination coverage rates at a 31 per cent low, Samoa is extremely vulnerable to a rapid outbreak. Tuitama, who was Minster of Health when two babies died after getting their Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccinations, said that tragic mistake dealt a tremendous blow to the credibility of the vaccination programme. 

The deaths were found to have been caused by negligent preparations of the vaccine;, the nurses involved were sentenced by the courts to five years' hail for negligence. But rebuilding confidence has taken time.

“It really set it back to very low level of immunisation, parents were very reluctant to have their children immunised, and likewise the Ministry did not want to take a chance of imposing upon parents, to force them to immunise until we had cleared up the incident that caused the death,” Tuitama said.

While the vaccine program was halted for the duration of the court case, the Ministry spent time training staff on vaccination procedures, he added.

“But even in that space of time a lot of children missed out on their scheduled immunisation, so a lot of children are now way behind.

“The Ministry is trying to catch up now, to bridge the gap caused by this lapse and I think it will become right.

“We had a very good record of immunisations before the incident.”

Today, as Ministry of M.W.S.C.D, Tuitama said he feels well placed to continue his work in the health sector, as his ministry works will all sectors of society to ensure they are well.

A healthy community is more productive, he said.

“In a way, it is a continuation of the same role with a different perspective.

“All the government ministries realise that healthy people are more productive than sick people so it is the wish and I think the intention of all the ministries to put in their fair share of seeing that the country is healthy, from their own perspective.”

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