Reaping the benefits of house-to-house vaccination 

There has been a feeling of despair and helplessness seeing the death toll from the measles epidemic continuing to soar.

Our hearts and minds are with the families of the deceased, whose passing over the last few weeks got the death toll to hit 62, and we again appeal to families to take their children to the nearest health facility rather than seek traditional healers or alternative medicine due to the risks associated with delayed treatment. 

The Samoa government in an update on Wednesday advised that for the first time two adults were part of the overnight fatalities. 

The two adults – one between 20-29 years of age and the other 30-39 years – join a 37-year-old who died in the first week of the epidemic.

The number of measles cases has also gone over the 4,000 threshold with the Ministry of Health (M.O.H.) confirming that a total of 4,052 measles have now been reported to their Disease Surveillance Team since the outbreak.

With the death toll threatening to get to the century mark, it is hoped the government’s two-day shutdown on Thursday and Friday will reap rewards and arrest more measles-related fatalities in the immediate future, as civil servants join MOH staff and international medical emergency teams to increase Samoa’s immunisation coverage through a house-to-house vaccination programme.

The misinformation spread by anti-vaccination groups are some of the major factors behind families opting to take their sick children to traditional healers and proponents of alternative medicine. The M.O.H. recently warned families of the dangers of late medical interventions, due to the parents of sick children opting for alternative treatment.

“We are trying our best to give out information so that parents will understand and make informed decisions in terms of treatment,” said the M.O.H. Director General, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri.

“We are very concerned about people getting influenced easily with outside treatments, our country wants fast solutions like getting a massage today and recover tomorrow but the majority of these diseases need time to fight against the body.”

We believe locally-based anti-vaccination groups and individuals or even those using social media to propagate alternative forms of treatment should be arrested and charged under state of emergency laws for being a danger to public health.

The actions of anti-vaccination groups or individuals as well as those promoting alternative treatment is creating confusion and a loss of confidence in the health system, which can have fatal consequences for individuals and families during the epidemic.

Therefore, we applaud the decision by Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi for taking the lead in his government’s house-to-house vaccination programme, when he and members of his Cabinet were vaccinated in the Cabinet Office and their photos distributed on the government’s social media page.

As residents and citizens living in a country currently plagued by a public health crisis that has already claimed 62 lives and more by the end of the day, we have a responsibility to share correct information from official sources that will save lives, and not disempower families and individuals and place them in an even more precarious position.

Early in the week the government lifted the vaccination restrictions to vulnerable groups to include older adults up to the age of 60, drawing praise from members of the community who were concerned that even the elderly were unprotected.

Vaccination statistics released by the government on December 3 show that as of Monday this week a total of 25,058 residents have been vaccinated out of a target population of 44,649. And in the most vulnerable group under 4 years of age, less than 2,000 children in Savai’i have received vaccination. Out of a total population of over 200,000 over 55 per cent of the country’s population or 110,000 have been vaccinated since October 1.

The above statistics show that a lot more needs to be done to save lives and we can only hope that the two-day government shutdown will ultimately reap rewards in the end. 

Samoa has entered uncharted waters, hence let’s pray the fatalities will gradually end and the mass vaccination programme now underway will translate to better health outcomes, for this nation and its people over the long-term period.

Let us all take care in these trying times and God bless us all.

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