Measles surge: 114 diagnosed in a day

With an additional 114 suspected infections in 24 hours, the total number of suspected measles cases in Samoa has now risen to 1,174 as the epidemic surges across the nation. 

That is an additional 458 cases from last Monday. Another child, a seven-month-old from Savaii, died in the last 24 hours of suspected measles-related complications, bringing the death toll to 17. 

The National Emergency Coordination Office reports 189 cases are currently receiving hospital treatment, 159 of which are at Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital in Moto’otua.

Leulumoega District Hospital is treating 22 cases and Malietoa Tanumafili Hospital has three while five are in other rural district hospitals.

Some 98 per cent of cases are on Upolu, with Vaimauga West and Faleata West with the highest concentration.

The N.E.O.C has not provided any more details about the current state of the outbreak.

It was also revealed on Tuesday that the Government’s planned national mass immunisation strategy was not yet ready as expected. The Samoa Red Cross Society in Tuana’imato turned away hundreds of people because Ministry staff, who were to administer the vaccine, were not yet ready to perform their mass vaccination strategy as expected. 

Despite this shortage, the Samoa Observer learned that in October, soon after the epidemic was announced, a New Zealand Medical Assistance Team was assembled and readied to arrive in Samoa if requested by the Samoan government.

Despite the offer of help being made available it was not taken up. 

A New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson said: “In October, an initial N.Z.M.A.T. [New Zealand Medical Assistance Team] team was available to deploy to Samoa in the event that it was requested by the Government of Samoa, but an N.Z.M.A.T. team was not requested at that time."

The Ministry did not immediately respond to questions on the matter put to them on Tuesday afternoon. 

On Tuesday morning it was also revealed the Ministry of Health could be halting vaccinations by private clinics, sending patients to queue at hospitals. 

The Ministry of Health Assistant Chief Executive Officer Tevaga, Dr. Ponifasio Ponifasio, wrote on Facebook that: “No private GPs or any other clinic outside the ministry of health should be doing vaccinations. They are illegal activities and the public should avoid such places [sic].”

The N.E.O.C. was asked if this reflected official Government policy that all patients be immunised only via the hospital system but did not return an emailed request for comment on Tuesday. Nor was Tevaga reachable by phone. 

The President of the Nurses' Association, Solialofi Papali’i, told the Samoa Observer that while nurses are working between 12 and 14 hours at a time to keep up with demand, undergraduate nursing students have been enlisted to help.

90 yet-to-graduate bachelor students and 30 diploma students are working under supervision to assist in the hospitals.

With 64 additional medical personnel from Australia (34) and New Zealand (30) in Samoa, nurses and doctors may be getting slight respite from the burden of the epidemic.

The rise in cases is consistent with other measles epidemics, which have been shown to rise steadily only to spike at a certain point.

“There are so many factors involved,” Dr. Helen Petousis-Harris, University of Auckland vaccinologist said. 

“You will probably start seeing the effects of the intervention a couple of weeks after they were implemented, a couple of weeks from now.”

As people obey the Emergency Order to avoid public gatherings (especially children under 17) cases will begin to subside as less people are exposed to the virus. 

The Samoa Family Health Association has opened its doors as a new emergency vaccination clinic and is prioritising children from 6 months old to 19 years and non-pregnant women 20 to 35. They are not vaccinating over 35-year-olds at this time. 

The state of emergency orders declared on Saturday stand until at least mid-December. Under the orders, vaccination is now mandatory and under 17-year-old children must stay away from public gatherings.

Only one carer (over 18 years) is allowed with any hospitalised patient at any given time, all exams are postponed and schools closed.

Measles is a highly contagious disease, and even today remains one of the leading causes of childhood mortality worldwide. The vaccine, introduced in 1963, is the only prevention of the disease, has contributed to 84 per cent less deaths globally.

American Samoa has closed its borders to unvaccinated people, requiring proof of immunisation before entry. The old maternity ward in T.T.M Hospital is issuing vaccine certifications for travellers for $10, and full immunisation records for $40. 

Samoa has not yet closed its borders to unvaccinated travellers. 

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