Measles claims a child on Christmas Day

Another child under five passed away from measles, the Government confirmed on Thursday afternoon, bringing the total number of fatalities to 81.

There have now been 5,612 cases of measles, resulting in at least 1,823 hospitalisations and 81 deaths, mostly of children under five years old.

But with only nine new cases of measles reported in the last 24 hours and the the number of people in hospital receiving treatment for the disease, the epidemic is showing sure signs of waning, according to a top New Zealand expert. 

Dr Helen Petousis-Harris, the vaccinologist at the University of Auckland who in September was the first to publicly warn that a measles epidemic in Samoa was “inevitable,” says it is likely that the ongoing new infections are occuring within small pockets of the community who were not reached by the Government's mass vaccination campaign. 

“Given there are still quite a few new cases each day it is likely that those who remain unprotected are  living close together which allows the virus to continue to be spread until most people have been infected or vaccinated,"  Dr. Petousis-Harris said. 

“This could continue for a few more weeks.

“While the intervention came late, the efforts to vaccinate so many people so fast, and the commitment and tireless work by so many health workers and community to this end, as well as the care for those many affected, is a monumental achievement. This has saved lives."

There are 37 hospitalisations in Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital, including seven children and three adults in intensive care. There are two cases in Leulumoega, one in Poutasi and one in Lalomanu District Hospitals.

There are just two cases of measles in Savaii, at Malietoa Tanumafili II Hospital in Tuasivi. 

The desperate bid to clamp down on new infections by vaccinating everyone possible appears to have largely succeeded, with 95 per cent of the population now vaccinated, and a week of less than 50 new reported infections each day. 

At the height of the epidemic in late November, there were over 1000 new infections in less than five days. But in the week leading up to Christmas there have been less than 250.  

Small but still steady numbers of new daily cases of measles suggests the unvaccinated population of Samoa are in close quarters, and the virus will continue to spread, an expert suggests.

Samoa has had a flood of assistance from emergency medical teams across the world. Australia built an intensive care unit and a paediatric ward, while New Zealand helped staff the Leulumoega and Faleolo District Hospitals to manage the surge in patients there.

The nations of Japan, Israel, Norway, the United Kingdom, French Polynesia, Papua New Guinea, Hawaii, Kiribati and the Solomon Islands have been represented, alongside the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, the United Nations, Doctors without Borders, the Red Cross, Save the Children and the Pacific Community.

There have been 39 total rotations of teams since the beginning of the operations in mid-November.

A computational epidemiologist closely following the epidemic Dr. Chris von Csefalvay said the influx of care and resources has contributed to the slowdown of deaths from measles.

It meant a “second spike” of fatalities, common when healthcare resources and people are overwhelmed with the scale of the epidemic, was avoided.

At the height of the epidemic, there was at least one measles-related death a day for 13 days straight. During that time, there were days of heavy losses, with one day seeing six deaths.

The Government has said more E.M.T.s are still arriving to help the recovery process, as well as continuing relieving Samoan healthcare staff who need a break.

Minister of Health Faimalotoa Kika Stowers-Ah Kau said the contribution of the E.M.T’s to Samoa is “immortal.

“Without a doubt, Emergency Medical [Responders] provide an invaluable service. They literally carry lives in their hands, and they tirelessly work to alleviate the suffering of others.

“Even on Christmas Day, while many are celebrating with their children and families many of you are back on in the hospital wards offering your expertise with no strings attached.

“And for that, Samoa will be forever in your debt."

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