Fears for infants in Samoa as measles deaths mount

Grant Boone
November 29, 2019

A measles epidemic raging in Samoa has killed 37 people, the World Health Organization said Wednesday, blaming an anti-vaccine messaging campaign for leaving the Pacific island nation vulnerable to the spread of the virus. All but four of the deaths are children under the age of four, including the six who died in the past 24 hours.

Scientists at the University of Auckland's Department of Engineering Science and Auckland Bioengineering Institute calculated the expected death trajectory, based on the number of reported cases and percentage of population now immunised against the disease.

O'Brien said that an anti-vaccine group had been stoking these fears further with a social media campaign, lamenting that "this is now being measured in the lives of children who have died in the course of this outbreak". People can spread measles up to 4 days before and 4 days after they have a rash.

Petousis-Harris said the outbreak couldn't have started with just one infected person arriving in Samoa, it would have had to have been a cluster of infected of people.

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Officials have blamed the low rates in part on fears sparked previous year when two babies died after receiving measles vaccination shots. Once infected, there is no specific treatment for measles, so vaccination is a life-saving tool for children.

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Neighbouring New Zealand said it was sending more supplies and personnel, including emergency medical assistance teams, nurse vaccinators, intensive care specialists and Samoan-speaking medical professionals.

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters said the latest support package included more medical staff and a machine to support oxygen production.

New Zealand was also looking to provide psychological support for health workers in Samoa, he said. According to the Samoan government, this effort has successfully vaccinated 33,085 individuals in Samoa.

New Zealand Red Cross has a long history of working closely with Red Cross National Societies in the Pacific through capacity building, knowledge sharing, pre-positioning of relief items and disaster response activities.

Worldwide Improvement Secretary Alok Sharma stated: 'This lethal measles outbreak is having a devastating affect on the folks of Samoa, significantly kids, who urgently want our assist. The total number of measles cases was 2,437.

The ministry has vaccinated 24,000 people in both Upolu and Savaii since November 20.

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