Emergency Intensive Care Unit operational

An eight-bed emergency intensive care unit built by the Australian Medical Assistance Team (AUS.M.A.T.) in Samoa is operational and catering for the sickest patients suffering from measles.

With more than 700 suspected cases of measles and 48 confirmed ones, Samoa declared a state of emergency on Friday night and reached out to its international partners for support.

At least 40 per cent of cases have need hospitalisation and the intensive care unit (I.C.U) at the Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital is at capacity with 15 admissions. 

The new unit, built near the Emergency Department, is a negative pressure I.C.U. 

It enables isolation and containment of patients, preventing contaminated air from leaving the facility while enable air flow through it.

It was constructed in about six hours on Friday, and needed several hours on Saturday to have the negative pressure operational.  

AUSM.A.T.’s unit is an essential addition to Samoa’s medical system which is overburdened with critically ill patients, most of whom are children under the age of four.

They have brought all their own equipment, and will be joined by Samoan healthcare staff to jointly manage the unit.

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Measles is both a highly contagious disease and one that brings many complications, which can cause serious problems for infants, children and even adults.

Dealing with these complexities has been a major challenge for the overburdened Samoan medical system and one of the reasons AUSMAT has brought this extra unit.

“The Australian government has worked very closely with the Samoan Ministry of Health to talk about what joint response we might have to the measles outbreak and how we might support the system to get through this very big peak in activity,” Australian High Commissioner, Sarah Moriarty. said.

“We are willing and standing by to help wherever we can for as long as it is needed."

Altogether, Australia has sent 34 staff to Samoa, most of whom are doctors, nurses and clinical assistants. They are currently planning to stay for six weeks but that will depend on the need from the Ministry of Health.

The clinicians are working across the medical system alongside the Samoan staff in the I.C.U, paediatric ward, primary care clinic and acute primary care clinic. 

There are also five people working with the Ministry of Health to coordinate the emergency response in the health sector with a focus on data, epidemiology and surveillance and the vaccination campaign.

Ms. Moriarty said Australia’s efforts are being coordinated with New Zealand and the World Health Organisation/United Nations Children’s Fund, and that their work is all being aligned with the needs of the Samoan Government.

The 34-strong team will be welcome relief to the health sector, who have been working extraordinary shifts to maintain care for dozens of critically ill patients over several months, including private practice doctors volunteering at the hospital once their clinics are closed for the day.

“We want to acknowledge the great work of the health staff inside the system,” Ms. Moriarty said.

“They have done, and continue to do, a great job and been working really diligently for a long time to try and meet this need. It’s really important we acknowledge the amazing work they have done to date, and will continue to do, and we are here to support and help as best we can."

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