State of emergency declared
The Government late on Friday night declared Samoa was officially in a state of emergency in response to the measles epidemic that has been sweeping through the country for more than one month.
A special Cabinet meeting was convened late on Friday night at the Fiame Mataafa Faumuina Mulinuu II building prior to the announcement.
Acting Prime Minister and Minister of Health, Faimalotoa Kika Stowers, made the proclamation following the meeting.
Section 105 of Samoa’s Constitution states that a Proclamation of Emergency can be declared when the Head of State is satisfied that a grave emergency exists where the security of the country is threatened.
The declaration gives the Government power to act with fewer constraints and checks than is normal and certain extra powers to enable it to respond to emergency conditions.
Faimalotoa said there is a state of emergency because of the extent of the measles epidemic in the country and the need to prevent its further spread.
“It is not a matter to be worried about but for everyone to comply with and adhere to recommendations to prevent the spread of measles,” she said.
Those recommendations will be issued by the National Advisory Committee after it meets on Saturday morning.
The Committee consists of all Cabinet Ministers and all heads of Government ministries.
“Details of the recommendations will be outlined after the meeting and all questions will be answered then,” she said.
The declaration comes less than two days after neighbouring American Samoa declared a public health emergency following two suspected cases of measles brought into the American territory by unvaccinated Samoan nationals. Samoans are now obliged to provide proof they have been vaccinated against measles before passing through border control at Pago Pago International Airport and sea ports.
The Minister acknowledged the prayers from all churches and the support from the country as it battles to contain the spread of measles.
The Ministry of Health Director General, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri, was queried on Thursday about claims that the measles is spreading rapidly and cannot be controlled.
In response, he said it is difficult when members of the public are not adhering to warnings not to hold prize-giving ceremonies and refraining from public gatherings.
“It all boils down to parents because we don’t have a law to lock people if they don’t follow the recommendations," Leausa said.
The Director General blamed a passenger from New Zealand that flew to Samoa suspected with measles bringing the epidemic into the country.
Government data released publicly on Thursday shows Samoa had one case of measles reported to surveillance on August 28 2019.
According to Leausa there are six measles confirmed deaths mostly children under 2 years old.
A press release from Health states that, as of this week, there are 716 clinically suspected measles cases reported. Some 98 suspected patients have been admitted to the Motootua hospital with 15 admitted with the Intensive Care Unit.
In addition, there are 29 measles patients admitted in District Hospitals around the country.
Leausa acknowledged that it is unfortunate and sad that lives have been taken but the fact remains the young children who died were unvaccinated.
Leausa said an incident in Savai'i last year where two nurses were jailed for five years for their roles in preparing an administering a lethal mixture of the measles vaccine that led to the deaths of two one-year-olds had also fuelled anti-vaccination sentiment.
“People were reluctant then, because of what happened in Savaii,” he said. “There were a lot of anti-vax (vaccination) people that came and took advantage of that."
To accommodate the expected increasing numbers of patients, the old Emergency and Outpatient Ward at Motootua has been turned into a makeshift isolation facility to accommodate those severely affected.
The public is advised to utilise private medical clinics to avoid contacting the virus when they come to the hospital.
A state of emergency was declared in 2012 in response to Cyclone Evan.