Samoa shuts schools, declares emergency as measles kills 6

Henrietta Brewer
November 21, 2019

The Samoan government closed schools indefinitely Monday as it attempts to quell a measles epidemic that has killed at least six people and hospitalized dozens more.

Samoa has declared a state of emergency after several deaths linked to a measles outbreak, closing schools and placing restrictions on public gatherings. Health officials said the Pacific island nation's low immunization rate is the cause of the outbreak.

UNICEF and the World Health Organisation jointly prepared a communication toolkit and resources for measles prevention, which was immediately shared with Samoa, Tonga and Fiji, as the first Pacific Island Countries affected by the measles outbreak.

UNICEF is working closely with the Ministry of Health and WHO in Samoa to target children six months to 19 years of age and women who are not pregnant between 20-35 years. He said that only about two-thirds of Samoans had been vaccinated, leaving the others vulnerable to the virus.

The immunization rate dropped to as low as 30 percent past year from about 60 percent in 2016, according to figures from the World Health Organization.

Helen Petousis-Harris, a vaccine expert at New Zealand's University of Auckland, said the Samoan government halted its immunization program for several months previous year after two infants died from a medical mishap involving a vaccine.

A general manager at Counties Manukau Health in New Zealand, Elizabeth Powell, said another three measles-related deaths were yet to be confirmed.

"We, of course, have an open flow of people", Ardern said.

"In response to a request from the people of Samoa, New Zealand is providing 3,000 measles, mumps and rubella vaccines and 12 nurses to assist in containing a serious and growing measles outbreak", New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters said Friday.

UNICEF is supporting the Government of Samoa to respond to a measles outbreak in the country.

She said it was also important to boost Samoa's low levels of immunisation and help prevent future outbreaks.

The paper says the five-year-old twin children of the only adult to have died from measles so far had also died.

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