Measles death toll climbs to 63 in Samoa

Henrietta Strickland
December 6, 2019

Non-vaccinated locals have been asked to pin a red cloth to the front of vulnerable homes so they can be easily identified.

The markets on Apia's waterfront, usually packed with tourists buying handicrafts, were silent as stalls stood empty, while there was hardly any traffic in the city center. "There are no cars", UNICEF's Pacific islands chief Sheldon Yett told AFP.

The present disaster in Samoa has additionally triggered many worldwide anti-vaccination campaigners to weigh in and criticising the nation's drive to immunise its kids, which is making an attempt raise the extent of measles vaccination protection to greater than 90%.

"That's what we're doing right now".

The outbreak has severely affected Samoa because its immunization rate dropped to approximately 30 percent after an incident a year ago that involved the deaths of two babies that the anti-vaxxers incorrectly attributed to the medication.

Since the outbreak began in October, 63 people had died, the vast majority of which - 57 - were children under the age of 15. The deaths were later found to have been caused by medications that were wrongly mixed. Immunization rates in Pacific island nations Tonga and Fiji are at around 90 percent, and their measles outbreaks have been far milder.

The vast majority of deaths were of children, with 48 out of the 53 aged four or under dying from the disease, according to a government update.

Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said, "The reason why we have declared two days of holiday, so that everybody stay at home".

Samoa has been racing to administer vaccines to children since declaring a state of emergency on November 20 and has vaccinated 58,150 people so far, the government said on Monday.

He admitted the epidemic was beyond his country's ability to control, which was evident with what had happened to date.

Malielegaoi said he was angered by anecdotal reports some anti-vaccination parents were encouraging their children to hide from the teams to avoid the mandatory injection.

"The only cure for this is vaccination... having your children vaccinated is the only way", he said.

In just over two weeks, the official death toll has jumped more than ten-fold to 53 on Monday, the Samoan government said.

"I think you're talking to the wrong people, we did it many, many times", he told reporters.

Three deaths were for adults over the age of 19.

The five most affected countries, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Madagascar, Somalia and Ukraine, accounted for half of all cases worldwide.

Admissions included 20 critically ill children and three pregnant women, with 173 more now hospitalised.

Global teams have been deployed to assist the Samoan government with their mass vaccination programme with crews from America, Britain, Australia and New Zealand on the ground in Samoa.

There have also been measles epidemics in neighboring Fiji and Tonga, but higher immunization rates mean they have been more easily contained, with no fatalities.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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