Samoa launches $28 million measles crisis appeal

The Government has officially asked the international community for $28,675,000 (US$10,745,000) to battle and recover from the measles crisis.

A national measles appeal was launched on Friday by Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, Cabinet Ministers and the United Nations, which called on the world for solidarity in a time of great crisis. 

It is the first time Samoa has made such a plea. 

The appeal comes after at least 63 lives were lost to the epidemic, and more than 4,300 people infected. 

Government closed the entire country to try vaccinating over half the population in just two days in a desperate bid to end the fatal epidemic.

“The impacts of this emergency will be far reaching on Samoa and our people, particularly our young generations,” said Prime Minister Tuilaepa appeal.

“It is imperative therefore to strengthen the culture of acceptance of vaccination in order to create herd immunity. This is a painful lesson we have learned from the current crisis.”

Among the groups most affected by the epidemics are the more than 60 families who buried a relative, most likely a child, in the last two months. At least two families buried more than one of their own.

The appeal includes them, noting that “support to families of the deceased patients … also require financial resources to be made available.”

Tuilaepa, not shying away from the frontlines of the two day mobile vaccination campaign, looks tired. He has met with families and asked them to vaccinate themselves and their children.

Turning now to the entire world for more help, he acknowledged how much work was yet to be done even after the epidemic is over, in the health services, the community infrastructure, data gathering and reporting too. 

“The measles outbreak badly affected our people and had a negative impact on our economy and fiscal stability,” he said.

“As the measles outbreak ends, we clearly see the vulnerabilities the country is still facing and the prospect of other crises to occur.  This is the time for us to take action and we count on the global solidarity that keeps us united in the face of adversity.”

Tuilaepa also acknowledged the immediate response of the international community thus far, from as near as the Pacific and as far as Europe. 

“I wish to acknowledge the support of the international community whose response was immediate and answered to the glaring capacity deficiencies that significantly hampered an effective response to the current crisis,” he said.

“Samoa is grateful for the support that could be further extended to us to help save lives, cater for our capacity constraints and to give us the confidence to strategically forward plan to ensure the experiences will not be repeated.”

The appeal details the needs of four sectors: the health, education, community, communication and data areas, which will be making the greatest changes to ensure no epidemic breaks out like this again.

It was devised in just 48 hours by the sector leaders, the Prime Minister said.

Detailed in the appeal is the stark reality of Samoa’s necessities.

The health sector alone needs US$6.5 million, the Government estimates. Education and community need US$3.145 million, and the communications and data need $1.13 million.

United Nations Resident Coordinator Simona Marinescu said the measles epidemic has called on the world to join efforts, especially in the protection of Samoa’s most vulnerable. 

“In its fight with the epidemic, Samoa is not alone,” she said, referring to the global rise of the measles virus which claimed 142,000 deaths in 2018.

“Poverty and all forms of exclusion remain though the most immediate causes of limited access to healthcare services and proper treatment, to education and to decent living,” Ms. Marinescu said.

“Scepticism regarding the safety of the vaccine and the expanding atmosphere of doubt around vaccination even in most advanced countries are among the underlying causes of the dramatic expansion of the disease."  

Immediately, the Government has asked for US$3.7 million to fund community mobilisation and empowering women’s committees to work more closely with the health sector.

The short term fund will also go towards vaccination training on injection safety and storage as well as improved recording and reporting. 

Two key priorities are to address the mental health burdens in the country, especially as exacerbated by this epidemic, as well as strengthening infection prevention and control through surveillance. 

After that, another US$2.7 million is required to build on the immunisation registry system to ensure it works and is used, strengthen the regular vaccination program and improve the isolation wards in Upolu and Savaii’s main referral hospitals, including building double door negative pressure rooms with all the relevant equipment.  

US$1.1 million is required to digitise and centralise immunisation records, including the necessary back up and generator machinery. 

The education sector will be highly engaged in the future of Samoa’s public health, and has asked for nearly US$1.5 million to cover not only resources and activities to improve awareness about vaccination and complete the necessary immunisations at the school level.

“I sincerely hope that you will join us in our mission to make changes to our systems and ensure policy coherence so that there can never ever be a repeat of this crisis that has impacted significantly on us all,” Tuilaepa said.

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