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Pacific countries step in to aid Samoa's measles fight

The Solomon Islands and Kiribati are on the ground helping Samoa manage the measles epidemic, with four nurses deployed to Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital until later this month. 

They are organised by the Pacific Community (S.P.C).

Samoa has been hardest hit among Pacific countries by measles, the world’s most contagious virus. In less than four months there have been at least 5,267 infections and 73 deaths.

To manage the immense load on the health system – so far 1,684 people have needed hospitalisation, many of which have needed intensive care – the Ministry of Health and World Health Organisation have coordinated international assistance from emergency medical teams to join the response.

Kiribati and the Solomon Islands joined French Polynesia and Hawaii, other Pacific nations rushing to Samoa’s aid. 

It is understood Papua New Guinea is also mobilising to arrive in country with doctors and nurses.

New Zealand has deployed not only two Medical Emergency Teams but also the New Zealand Red Cross, and four rotations of vaccination nurses from Counties Manukau District Health Board. 

The Pasifika Medical Association has also joined New Zealand, mobilising two teams of not only doctors and nurses abut also mental health specialists.

They have deployed five psychiatrists, four psychiatric nurses, and two psychologists. According to the P.M.A, all team members are either Samoan speaking clinicians or have experience in Samoa’s health system. 

Air New Zealand supported them to bring supplies and equipment, some donated by Medical Aid Abroad

Australia has deployed four teams of medical professionals, primary to work at T.T.M Hospital, and the two deployments of United Kingdom professionals are working alongside them. 

From further afield, Norway, Japan and Israel have deployed teams, bringing altogether 33 people. 

As well as national deployments, several organisations have sent support too. The Adventist Development and Relief Agency has organised and funded several intensive care nurses to work in the T.T.M intensive care unit. 

Samoa Doctors Worldwide are sending seven rotations of Samoan speaking doctors to the country from late December to late March, with expertise across the board.

Save the Children (United Kingdom) and the United Nations Population Fund (U.N.F.P.A.) are deploying midwives and an obstetrician, to provide urgent maternity care. 

The United Nations and United Nations Children’s Fund have been bringing expertise and vaccines too. 

Altogether, Samoa has seen more than 300 international medics on the ground since the measles epidemic took hold. 

They are coordinated by the Emergency Medical Team Coordination Cell, which is operated by the World Health Organisation on request from the Ministry of Health. 

Dr. Rasul Baghirov, representative of the W.H.O said E.M.T.s are already pre-qualified and certified to practice abroad, so they can begin work immediately.

This is essential for avoiding opportunists or people without proper qualifications coming to the ground to practice medicine without a licence, Dr. Baghirov said. It also eases pressure on the Ministry of Health, which has to issue practice certificates to those who apply for them.

So far he has been proud of the ability of his team to coordinate so many people in a short space of time, including responding to a request to get many more vaccination nurses for the two day door-to-door vaccination campaign on December 5 and 6.

“I am proud of that, we were able to, in 36 hours, check on some opportunities, get in contact with Government of State of Hawaii and here we are, we had people arriving in the morning ready to vaccinate, with equipment and the supplies,” he said.

“They landed at 8am and by 9am they were in the hospital, assigned to different roles and went out to the field.”

On Monday, Parliament sat to scrutinise the more than T$22.4 million donated to Samoa to fight the measles epidemic, which has flooded in from overseas partners, local operations and multilateral organisations.

Dr. Baghirov said each E.M.T that arrives in Samoa does so fully funded and self-sufficient. Their transport, accommodation, supplies and wages are not covered by the receiving Government.

“The costs are not articulated well, but this is very expensive,” he said.

“A lot of money comes in in different forms, like supplies and equipment.” 

He said in theory, one could calculate the entire amount of money Samoa received both in cash, in kind and in human resources. 

“It would be amazing, but it might not necessarily be a nice number. It would highlight how expensive the treatment is, and how cheap immunisation can be. The crisis is what costs all the money.”

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