Minister abroad as measles spreads

As Samoa’s measles epidemic was announced to have grown by up to 60 per cent and feared to have claimed the lives of another four children, the Health Minister, Faimalotoa Kika Stowers-Ah Kau, has been overseas for a week. 

Faimalotoa last week travelled to Brisbane for a  United Nations Forum on women in power in the Pacific, from November 5 to November 8. She did not speak at the conference, which included sessions on effective political campaigning and using social media as a parliamentarian. 

On November 7 the Ministry of Health released a public notice confirming another 200 'suspected' cases of measles. 

Faimalotoa’s office said she was expected back in Samoa this evening but was unable to shed any light on her schedule between the 8th of November and the 12th beyond unspecified engagements. 

Faimalotoa attended the Forum, alongside a number of other Samoan delegates, including the Legislative Assembly’s Aliimalemanu Alofa Tuuau and Faaulusau Rosy Duffy-Stowers, Peseta Afoa Arasi Tiotio, President of Women in Business Development Inc.

Aliimalemanu, Faaulusau and Peseta each spoke on various panel discussions, while the Minister did not, according to the forum’s programme. 

While she has been out of Samoa, the Ministry of Health announced a 60 per cent increase in the number of suspected cases of measles and another four children are suspected measles related mortalities, from 314 on the 27th of October to 513 on the 4th November.

Two families have lost two babies each since the 4th of November. The Ministry of Health has not responded to requests for comment nor confirmed whether the babies were being treated for measles at the time of or before their deaths. 

Siblings Itila and Tamara Tuivale died five days apart from each other in Lauli’I last week. 

Their parents, Paulo and Fa'aoso Tuivale have yet to learn the exact cause of death from the Ministry of Health but both babies had presented with the symptoms of measles. 

They were two and one years old, and leave behind Tamara’s one year old twin brother who has also been treated for measles.  

On Saturday and Monday, brothers one-year-old Lologa and three-month-old Isaako Samuelu from Vaitele are also suspected to have died from measles, after being treated for the disease at Moto’otua Hospital.

The Ministry of Health has been refusing interview requests and not answering questions put to them over email for the last week and a half.

On Tuesday, Director-General Leausa Dr. Take Naseri gave permission for colleague Dr. Sarah Brown to speak to a Samoa Observer reporter on the measles epidemic, but she did not answer several phone calls.

Finally on Tuesday evening, Associate Minister Tofa Li’o Foleni gave an interview to the Samoa Observer, exposing the grave lack of resources in his island of Savaii.  

After vaccinating 6000 people in just a week and a half, Tuasivi Hospital is running out of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccines and is waiting for Moto’otua Hospital to send 2000 more doses to the big island, Tofa said.

The vaccine storage fridge in Safotu Hospital has yet to be repaired. Meanwhile five Australian Medical Assistant Team members toured Tuasivi and Satupa'itea Hospitals to assess their resource needs.

Calls made to Minister Faimalotoa for comment were unsuccessful. 

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