The 50-plus death toll. Be responsible parents

It is tragic that 48 days after the Samoa government’s declaration of a measles epidemic, the number of fatalities from the outbreak has crossed the half-century mark.

In fact when the government declared on October 16 that the country had a measles epidemic, no one thought the public health crisis would spiral out of control, and claim so many lives in such a short space of time.

Close to a month after declaring Samoa had a measles epidemic, the then Acting Prime Minister and Health Minister Faimalotoa Kika Stowers announced on Friday November 15 that the Cabinet agreed for the proclamation of a state of emergency.

On Monday Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi announced in a press conference that there would be a major shutdown of government on Thursday and Friday this week, which would enable Samoa’s civil service to join health workers rollout a mass vaccination programme across the country. 

Tuilaepa announced that public and government services – excluding the Samoa Water Authority and the Electric Power Corporation – would be closed effective this Thursday and Friday.

"The public service and government services will be closed for Thursday to Friday this week in order to allow public servants to assist with the mass vaccination campaign throughout the country, expect the [Samoa Water Authority] and [the Electric Power Corporation]," Tuilaepa said.  

"A full programme will be published for the public; the answer to our prayers is with us through the services of the doctors and nurses and all health personnel."

The announcement by the Prime Minister comes on the back of a government update advising of the death toll increasing to 53. The deceased include 25 children between the ages of 1-4 and 23 under 1 years of age. Measles cases as of last night stood at 3,728 and hospitalisation had risen to 1,129. 

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There is no doubt that the spike in fatalities is taking a toll on everyone, especially the families and friends of all those who have perished in recent weeks, as the epidemic swept through the land. 

We too have asked questions of our own on why the authorities did not take action sooner, in order to prevent what is now becoming a catastrophe for this nation of under 200,000 people. We started running stories in early October on suspected cases of measles. We took the Ministry of Health to task, over the delay in getting back test results and acting immediately to put in place contingency plans.

But as the clock continues to tick and the life of another innocent child cut short by complications brought on by the virus, we must leave the postmortem and accountability phase of this growing health crisis to another time, and join hands with the authorities to do our best to ensure no other child of Samoa enters the halls of the Tupua Tamasese Meaole National Hospital (TTM) at Motootua.

Therefore, we must take the opportunity to emphasise again that the responsibility for each and every child in this country belongs to the parents. It is our responsibility as parents to ensure our children stay indoors and do not go out to public gatherings – even if they are vaccinated – in line with the provisions of the state of emergency.

Having driven around Apia and entered public spaces such as supermarkets and even churches, we continue to see parents taking their infant children and toddlers around, without a care in the world and in blatant breach of the state of emergency orders.

Recently I saw a toddler less than 2 years of age, running around a major supermarket, wearing a diaper and without a shirt and shorts. The child’s parents walked out of sight to another section of the shop, perhaps expecting the toddler to run after them, and totally ignorant of the risks that their child could be exposed to.

Are parents exposing their children to risks of infection through their negligence? Should we start reporting parents who are taking their underage children to public gatherings and thereby putting them at risk?

A couple of days ago the Police warned that members of the public who take children to public gatherings could be charged or even arrested. 

We welcome the caution from the Police but we need to go one step further and walk the talk and hold parents to account – charging a mother or a father for exposing their children to risks, which could cost them their lives, will drive home the point.

With the death toll now precariously hurtling towards the 60th mark, we must not drop our guard and should take it upon ourselves to hold others to account. One life lost is one too many. 

Take care and God bless Samoa. 

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