In the most dramatic response yet to the wave of measles outbreaks that have swept much of the world in 2019, Samoa has ordered a complete government shut-down to redeploy public workers in the fight against the disease.
With 53 reported dead, and nearly 4,000 cases, the tiny South Pacific nation’s prime minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, yesterday issued an emotional plea to parents, urging them to bring children with signs of illness to hospital, and urging all 200,000 citizens to come forward for protection.
“Seek medical care for sick children early, ensure family members, especially children are vaccinated and maintain good hygiene standards,” he urged.
Public health agencies have been stunned by the scale and speed of the Samoan outbreak, as measles – once slated for global eradication – has swept through the islands 3,600 miles west of Australia.
Samoa's measles vaccination rates have plummeted after the deaths of two children who received a measles jab that had been incorrectly administered. In 2015 more than 80 per cent of children had been vaccinated compared to just 34 per cent last year.
With the World Health Organization coordinating an unprecedented emergency response to the outbreak, equipment and staff, especially from Australia and New Zealand, have been airlifted to the islands. A British emergency medical team flew in at the weekend.
In a national address to the people of Samoa Mr Malielegaoi said: “I would again call on everyone’s co-operation to protect our children.
"Vaccination is the only cure... no traditional healers or kangen (alkaline) water preparations can cure measles," he said.
"Let us work together to encourage and convince those that do not believe that vaccinations are the only answer to the epidemic," he added.
"Let us not be distracted by the promise of alternative cures."
The Samoan measles outbreak started in October and a state of emergency was declared in mid-November, with schools closed and children banned from public gatherings, such as church services, to minimise the risk of contagion.
But the move has not prevented the highly contagious virus sweeping through the poorly protected population, where vaccinations rates had fallen to less than 40 per cent.
Nearly 200 cases have been admitted to hospital and at least 21 are in intensive care with compilations including pneumonia.
Infants and young children are most vulnerable, with 48 of the 53 fatalities reported to date being aged four or less. Parents told The Telegraph that they were stunned by the speed with which their children died.
Facoso Tuivaile, whose three-year-old son, Hila, and 17-month twin son and daughter Sale and Tamar, all succumbed to the disease, said she had “placed them in God’s hands”.
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