United Nations commends measles response

The response to the Pacific measles epidemic has been described as “effective” by the health and children’s organisations of the United Nations, who say the work in the face of the epidemic “notably reduced” the spread of measles across the region.

In a joint statement released on Monday, the World Health Organisation (W.H.O.) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (U.N.I.C.E.F.) said the public health efforts of Pacific countries made serious gains on closing gaps in immunity to disease, and have strengthened their “disease prevention, surveillance and response systems.”

The agencies continue to work with Pacific countries on their health systems, immunisation coverage and response to new cases of measles, they said.

Samoa, Tonga and Fiji experienced measles outbreaks towards the end of 2019, which resulted in 83 deaths in Samoa alone. Tonga and Fiji have not lost any lives to the outbreak, and one of two centres in Fiji is now measles free, according to the Fijian Government.

A mass immunisation campaign from mid-November to the end of December brought Samoa’s immunisation coverage to 95 per cent, the international standard for protection against epidemics. 

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At last count, 5707 people in Samoa were infected altogether, but with no new cases since early January the Ministry of Health could be declaring the end of the epidemic by the end of the month. 

The W.H.O and U.N.I.C.E.F. state all efforts taken to combat the measles align with International Health Regulations (I.H.R.) 2005 “and [are] critical to preventing and controlling the spread of infectious diseases, such as measles.”

The I.H.R. is an 84 page document intended to be applicable for every possible emergency and spread of disease around the world. As well as public health support it provides a legal basis for documentation needed for international travel and rules for airports, ports and ground crossings.

Fiji and Tonga are continuing their vaccination campaigns, with Tonga re-vaccinating many adults they suspect were given ineffective vaccines.

Immunisation is now compulsory for school entry in Samoa, after a bill was rapidly moved through Parliament under state of emergency conditions in December 2019.

The W.H.O. maintains travellers around the region should ensure their vaccinations are up to date at least two weeks before travel, and that people should “exercise standard health precautions” while on the move.

The United Nations helped the Government launch an international appeal in December to offset the considerable costs stemming from the epidemic. 

The appeal remains online in the hope to raise US$10.7 million (T$28.2 million) to improve health and education service, to digitise health records to better respond to future health crises, and to strengthen reproductive health services. 

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