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First day without a death

Wednesday 11 December 2019 | Published in Regional

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Officials hopeful new infections in Samoa’s measles epidemic may have peaked. The death toll from Samoa’s measles outbreak remains at 70 after no new fatalities were recorded over the last 24 hours, the ministry of health says.

SAMOA – For the first day in two weeks no new deaths have been reported from the measles outbreak in Samoa.

Eighty-seven new cases of measles were recorded over the last 24 hours by the ministry’s Disease Surveillance Team, taking the total number to 4819 since the outbreak started.

There are currently 169 measles cases who are in-patients at health facilities. Admissions include 21 critically ill children and two pregnant women.

To date, the total number of measles cases admitted to hospital during the outbreak is 1510. Of those, 1271 patients have been discharged.

The ministry said as of December 9, approximately 91 per cent of all eligible people in Samoa had been vaccinated against measles.

A doctor leading New Zealand’s medical response to the measles epidemic in Samoa say he’s hopeful the mass vaccination programme is beginning to help.

Alan Wright is the Clinical Team Leader for the New Zealand Medical Assistance Team ‘Bravo’, the second rotation to help in Samoa with the outbreak.

There was now a flattening off in severity of presentations and the rate of new cases appeared to have peaked, he said.

“From a national perspective the vaccination campaign has been dramatically successful from what I can see in terms of numbers. The numbers are still reasonably high but overall across the country they are just starting to drop.”

However, some of the children presenting for treatment had been desperately sick for several days with serious infections.

“It’s overwhelming pneumonia. There are bugs around in the community that are great opportunists.

“And if you get a child that’s debilitated by the measles virus between the age of one and four, when their immune system’s not flash anyway and their nutritional status may not be perfect, then they’re just sitting targets. And once the infections take hold, it’s pretty hard. You’re chasing your tail trying to catch up with them.”

Wright said although there has been a “champion effort” to get as many people as possible vaccinated, more deaths could be expected.

“It takes about two weeks for the vaccination to provide protection, so we have to wait another week or two before the results of the vaccination drive really kick in.

“There are going to be some children in Apia hospital who have been very sick and have been managed for a long time, who potentially will run out of reserves at some point. I don’t think we are quite there yet, but hopefully we are past the worst,” he said.

New Zealand, the UK and Israel are sending dozens more nurses and doctors to Samoa to assist with the epidemic.

The UK government said in a statement 14 medics will arrive on Sunday, to relieve a team that arrived two weeks ago.

“The medical system here is under the most enormous amount of strain, with the hospital operating far, far beyond its usual capacity,” said Becky Platt, a paediatric nurse with the UK Emergency Medical Team.

“The local staff have been working around the clock for weeks and weeks on end, many of them without proper breaks or any days off. Some of them are absolutely on their knees.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said a team of around 10 Israeli doctors and nurses from the Sheba Medical Centre arrived on Monday and will be deployed for about two weeks to Tupua Tamaese Meaole Hospital.

Meanwhile, the World Bank has given Samoa a US$3.5 million grant to support the

response to the measles outbreak.

It said the grant was available under an agreement that gives the government access to emergency funding in the event of a national emergency.

In addition, the bank has approved a US$9.3m grant to improve Samoa’s health system over the next five years.

The bank said the Samoa Health System Strengthening Programme aimed to improve the country’s ability to prevent outbreaks of communicable diseases such as measles, and stem the rise of non-communicable diseases like diabetes.

The programme would help to ensure Samoan families, particularly those in rural areas, had access to trained physicians and quality health services.

RNZ