Vitamin A en route to Samoa for measles epidemic
Samoa is set to receive a supply of vitamin A supplements to aid treatment to the more than 300 patients battling measles, known as the world’s most contagious disease.
Having a deficiency in Vitamin A is a recognised risk factor in cases of measles in children, and treating severe cases with Vitamin A has been proven to reduce mortality from the virus.
Doses of Vitamin A have helped children recover faster from measles induced pneumonia, diarrhoea and croup.
In a written response to questions from the Samoa Observer, the World Health Organisation (W.H.O.) confirmed Samoa is awaiting an “imminent arrival” of supplements.
“In certain populations who are at risk of vitamin A deficiency, W.H.O. recommends children are provided vitamin A supplements with immunization services, as it has been shown to reduce child mortality by up to 24%,” a spokesperson said.
“However, vitamins such as A and C are not a replacement to vaccination as they do not provide immunity to vaccine-preventable diseases, like measles.”
National efforts to close the immunity gaps in Samoa are ongoing, and the Ministry of Health has reduced some outpatient services to shift resources to dealing with the epidemic.
As of last Wednesday, there were 314 suspected cases of measles, of which 29 per cent had been hospitalised. Just 15 of those cases have been confirmed by blood tests done in Melbourne.
A new supply of vaccines were distributed to all the district hospitals at the beginning of this week, and hundreds are lining up for immunisation.
Priority is being given to children under-five as they are the most vulnerable age group. Just 69 per cent of five year olds today were vaccinated as they turned one, and 31 per cent of today’s two year olds are immune.
At Poutasi District Hospital, supplies dried out over the weekend. But a nurse working there, Mafutaga Talauega said there are very few cases occurring in Poutasi.
There have been no confirmed cases yet, and the directive from the Ministry is to refer suspected cases to Moto’otua Hospital for treatment.
Poutasi District Hospital caters to not only Poutasi but also Falealili, Aleipata and Safata, and so vaccine supplies are thin.
In just two days, more than 400 people were vaccinated at the Hospital, Ms. Talauega said.
Malaemalu resident, Taelasi Ta’alei took her children, nieces and nephews for their vaccinations, saying she worries about them being in public, crowded places.
The Director General of M.O.H, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri denies any vaccine supply shortage, telling Radio New Zealand: “we have more than enough.”
But in Safotu, the Samoa Observer learned the Hospital has no fridge to store large quantities of the vaccine in, and orders it from Apia instead.
Leausa said the Sava’ii freezer is in fact in Tuasivi Hospital, a 50 minute drive away.
“The problem in Savaii, vaccines are in Tuasivi, they have a state of the art fridge to maintain the cold chain.
“There should be a daily replenishment,” he said.
On other district’s vaccine shortages, Leausa said hospital staff are to blame for not ordering more enough in advance.
“The staff are waiting until the last drop of the vaccine, then they are ordering it.”
He said the measles and rubella vaccine (M.R) for seasonal workers has been short in supply, but the measles, mumps and rubella (M.M.R) vaccine is in supply.
W.H.O believes the number of measles cases in Samoa will continue to grow, as the virus continues to circulate the country.
“It is a critical priority that if individuals are not already immune (through prior infection or documented evidence of vaccination with two doses of a measles vaccine), they get vaccinated against the disease,” the spokesperson said.
“We also strongly encourage individuals who are planning to travel and uncertain about their immunization status, make sure they are vaccinated at least 15 days prior to departure.
“This will not only provide the best protection to the individual, but also help to stop the spread of the virus to other communities, including other Pacific Islands.”
*Additional reporting by Rienaia Toleafoa and Sialai Sarafina Sanerivi