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Include primary schools, colleges in measles shutdown

It has been 16 days since the Government declared Samoa has a measles epidemic.

And in just over two weeks after the declaration, the developments do not look promising with the Ministry of Health (M.O.H.) forcing the closure of pre-schools and child day-care centers across Samoa, as it tries to avert a full-blown national health crisis. 

An update released by the Ministry on Wednesday showed the evolving landscape with a mammoth 314 suspected cases, the test results of 146 samples are pending, and three deaths now suspected to be measles-related. 

The deceased include two babies, an 8-month-old and a 14-months-old as well as a 37-year-old adult. Laboratory tests are yet to confirm measles is the cause of death, and out of the 314 suspected cases, most of them are children under the age of four.

A Ministry of Health public notice – on the closure of preschools and child day-care centers in Samoa – was published in the Thursday, October 31, 2019 edition of the Samoa Observer.

“Measles is a highly serious contagious disease and can be fatal; therefore, the Ministry of Health is requesting the immediate closure of all Preschools and Child Daycare Centers,” reads an excerpt of the public notice.

“This precaution is vital as we work together as a Community to protect our population against measles as well as minimise the risks of the spread of this disease especially amongst infants and children.” 

The English and Samoan versions of the public notice were published side by side in the daily newspaper. 

We applaud the decision by the M.O.H. to move swiftly to force the shutdown of all preschools and child daycare centers across Samoa. Infants and children remain the most vulnerable to the disease, and shutting down the preschools and child daycare centers reduces the risk of infection.

In retrospect when the Ministry released its first statement on October 16 to confirm the outbreak, it said samples from 28 suspected cases were dispatched to the Victorian Infectious Disease Reference Laboratory in Melbourne, Australia on September 30 for testing.

The statement added that the test results for 12 cases received over that weekend stated there were four confirmed cases: one adult and three children.

On October 2 the Samoan health authorities sent off another eight samples for urgent testing with the results from the Australian laboratory confirming another three. The two children (under 5 years of age) and a 22-year-old adult were treated and discharged.

The M.O.H. said it felt compelled, upon discovering the seven confirmed cases, that a measles epidemic had to be declared for Samoa.

But just over two weeks after the local authorities declared the outbreak, it has been a downward spiral with three fatalities (suspected to be measles) and suspected measles cases now sitting at over 300. Surely, there should be behind-the-scenes conversations within the Government on the viability of extending the shutdown to primary schools and colleges? 

The risks of infection remain high when its business as usual in primary schools and colleges – both government, church and private-run. While we understand that the national exam for Year 8, Year 12 and Year 13 students is due this month, we are of the view their health should not be compromised. 

Due to the growing crisis, health authorities should formulate a plan in consultation with the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture (M.E.S.C.), to keep schools and colleges partially opened for the students sitting the exams, send the rest of the students home, and close the academic year after the exams are sat.

Parents should also play an active role in deciding whether it is safe for your child to continue to attend classes, knowing that the risks of infection remain high, and can be spread through breathing, coughing and sneezing. 

In line with the advice issued by the M.O.H., we encourage parents – who are not sure if their children were vaccinated – to take their children for vaccination. 

Vaccination centers can be found at the Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital (T.T.M.H.) on Upolu (the immunization clinic is located at the Emergency Department), and Malietoa Tanumafili II Hospital (MT11H) on Savai’i (the Immunization clinic is located at the Emergency Department).

We hear some of Samoa’s development partners have stepped forward to offer assistance, including New Zealand, which is the source of the measles. Forging partnerships with our international partners is also critical at this juncture, especially after a nine-month moratorium on the administering of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) in Samoa which was lifted in April this year, but has left in its wake hundreds of Samoan children vulnerable to diseases including measles. 

Stay safe Samoa and God bless, and continue to watch out for the symptoms of the disease amongst your loved ones.

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