New Zealand sends more help to fight measles

Another 18 vaccination nurses from New Zealand are headed for Samoa to help the nation clamp down on the growing measles epidemic, that country's Deputy Prime Minister, Vaovasamanaia Winston Peters, has announced.

The New Zealand Medical Assistance Team (N.Z.M.A.T.) leaves for Apia on Tuesday morning, joining the other 12 nurses already on the ground. They will stay for four weeks.

Vaovasamanaia said in light of the government declaring a State of Emergency on Friday evening, and making vaccinations mandatory as part of the emergency response, the immunisation programme needs support.

“The vaccination nurses will support Samoa’s immunisation programme, which is targeting the most at risk populations,” he said.

“The medical assistance team will support Samoan health personnel, providing treatment and medical supplies in a district hospital on Upolu that is facing heavy demand due to the outbreak.”

The measles epidemic has grown to epic proportions this month with more than 700 suspected cases and 48 confirmed ones.

The measles-related death toll now numbers 15 babies and one adult, including two prematurely born infants, and three to the same family.

Friday’s State of Emergency announcement enabled government to swiftly make vaccinations mandatory, a move that will hopefully curb the rate of infection.

The Ministry of Health is expected to produce a plan of where and when vaccinations will be given across the country. 

During her post-cabinet press conference on Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Arden was asked whether New Zealand should bear responsibility for the epidemic Samoa is facing.

“We of course have an open flow of people but we see our responsibility supporting Samoa as they deal with the outbreak and we are doing that actively,” she responded.

A Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson said New Zealand has been preparing on the ground to join Samoa’s Ministry of Health since October.

“Frequently, in early stages of an emerging situation we will prepare a team to go for potential deployment, while information about needs is gathered and while partner governments identify their priorities,” the spokesperson said.

“In October, an initial N.Z.M.A.T. team was available to deploy to Samoa in the event that it was requested by the Government of Samoa, but an N.Z.M.AT. team was not requested at that time.

“We have been working closely with the Government of Samoa since the early stages of this outbreak, and we respect their decision making processes. Where requests have been made we have responded quickly and positively, including requests for personnel.”

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