It’s time to elevate Samoa’s measles threat response

The story titled “Boy in Isolation Unit dies” published on the front page of the Samoa Observer on Tuesday should be a wake up call.

Given all talk about measles and the threat of an outbreak on these shores, the idea that a life has been lost with the possibility of the death being measles-related, is quite chilling. We should certainly be alarmed.

Allow me to qualify this. We don’t want to be alarmists and create a state of nationwide panic unnecessarily.

But one life lost is more than enough and we think the relevant authorities, especially the Ministry of Health, should elevate their response to ensure our people are given ample opportunity and time to be prepared and protect themselves.

This needs to happen, even while the authorities are awaiting the results of whatever tests, need to be done. Time is of the essence.

So far there have been mixed messages from the Ministry of Health. Take for instance a press conference they had called last week, where we were told there was one "likely to be positive" case of measles in the country. On the same day, the Director General of the Ministry of Health, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri, also confirmed that several samples of suspected measles cases have been sent to Melbourne, Australia for testing.

"We have sent over 25 samples last week and 13 samples [this week], these are all suspected cases," he said. "So far, we have one case that they say is confirmed but we need the reconfirmation of the lab tests…”

Even that is confusing enough. On one breath they say there is one confirmed case and then in another they say they need reconfirmation?

What kind of message is that? Is the case confirmed or not?

A few days later, an even more worrying development surfaced. This time it emerged that 16 patients with suspected cases had been admitted at the Moto’otua hospital, where they have been quarantined.

Contacted for a comment, Tagaloa Dr. Robert Thomsen emphasised that “those cases are suspected cases.” Well fair enough.

But then the story titled “Boy in Isolation Unit dies” appeared in yesterday’s Samoa Observer.

According to the story, the one-year-old boy who had been for a week confined to a Moto’otua Hospital isolation unit for patients "highly suspected" of having measles, died on Sunday afternoon.

The deceased child's mother, who asked not to be identified, told the Samoa Observer her son was first admitted to an isolation unit last Monday.

Contacted for a comment, Tagaloa again said the Ministry could not confirm the cause of the child's death. He added that even if the child was infected with measles, this could not be confirmed until conclusive testing had been completed.

Okay then. We understand they have a process to go through.

But how long will these results take to come back? And if one child has died already from a suspected case, wouldn’t it be more sensible for the health authorities to act on the worst case scenario now, than leave it too late?

We know these as facts. Measles can be transmitted through the air and contagious particles of the virus can remain in the air for hours after an infected person leaves an area.

We also know symptoms typically begin eight to 10 days after initial exposure to the virus, and then develop in stages, causing visible symptoms.

Again these are extremely worrying facts.  What if there is already an outbreak and yet the authorities are still trying to downplay it, waiting for test results to come back?

We repeat. One life lost is enough. That child’s death on Sunday, in what must surely have been the worst way to commemorate White Sunday for any parent, should be a wake-up call for all of us.

This country cannot be complacent. We cannot afford to sit back and hope that this would just fly over and away from us. That will not happen and given the challenges faced by our health system, an outbreak could have disastrous consequences for this nation.

This is why we believe that as a country we must adopt the attitude that it’s better safe than sorry and base our response along those lines. Besides, all the indications are there that we’ve got a real problem on our hands and we cannot remain passive. What do you think?

Have a safe Wednesday Samoa, God bless.




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