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Party demands measles crisis Inquiry

The Tautua Samoa Party has added its voice to the growing demands for the Government to set up a Commission of Inquiry (C.O.I.) into the measles epidemic. 

The Samoa Tautua Party, Luagalau Dr. Wood Salele, made the call on behalf of the party during a press conference recently.

“They owe it to the people,” he said, while emphasising that the C.O.I. is not to find fault in the Government, but rather to improve its response mechanisms for the future. 

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi also came under criticism by the Samoa Tautua Party executive, in response to reports that Tuilaepa questioned the need for an Inquiry.

Luagalau asked how Government leaders went to sleep, knowing that the epidemic has so far claimed 83 deaths, with the families of the victims yet to hear from authorities on what triggered the outbreak. 

“It happened under his watch and a leader shouldn’t make political comments like that to hide behind it,” he said. 

“It was pure negligence from the Ministry of Health who knew for years [since 2014] the country had a low immunisation coverage. 

“They were aware of the red lights and it should’ve triggered actions from them to seek advice from Cabinet on what to do but they waited and sat on it…”

The declaration of a state of emergency in November and a two-day government and business shutdown in early December, enabled the authorities to implement a door-to-door vaccination drive to respond to the low immunisation coverage in Samoa. 

But prior to the country reporting its first measles and announcing an outbreak in October, the country had a low vaccination rate amongst infants of just 31 per cent, according to national data. 

A contributing factor to the low immunisation coverage was the suspension in the administration of the Measles Mumps and Rubella vaccine in July 2018 after two babies in Savai’i died.

Over a year later the suspension was lifted when the Supreme Court found two nurses guilty of manslaughter for incorrectly mixing and administering the MMR vaccine.  

Prime Minister Tuilaepa said the incident had discouraged many parents from vaccinating their children which led to the low immunisation coverage. 

Tuilaepa, in response to questions from the media for a C.O.I., said there was no need for one. 

He asked who will investigate and question parents for refusing to vaccinate their children when the reasons were already known.

But Luagalau said the response from the Prime Minister indicates the Government had something to hide. 

He pointed out the C.O.I. will provide the platform for productive discussions with the families of those that did not want to get their children vaccinated. 

“We need to get to the bottom of what happened during the epidemic and ways that we can improve on it so we will be prepared for any future diseases,” he said. 

“Families of the 83 fatalities need answers and we need to explain to the people what happened. 

“The findings (of the C.O.I.) will also help the Ministry in its work and improving its service and systems…” 

Luagalau added that the Government often praises its own transparency and accountability achievements, but only the establishment of a C.O.I. can give it that track record. 

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