SAMOA – Samoa’s measles epidemic and national efforts to immunise have put Red Cross workers under huge pressure as the death toll continues to rise.
All but four of the 33 deaths are children including one who died in the past day.
New Zealand Red Cross health delegate Karen Page is preparing to spend Christmas in Samoa if she’s required to stay and help.
She arrived on Sunday and is working in the capital, Apia.
She’s one of seven Red Cross personnel who have travelled to help with the compulsory immunisation campaign.
She said hospital staff are under immense pressure.
“The hospital here is desperately needing qualified ICU general and paediatric nurses just to cope with the workload,” she said.
Page said the effects from the epidemic were widespread.
“The schools are closed, they’ve banned public gatherings – that includes children under 19 years old – the swimming pools are closed. I heard this morning that they’re going to close the night clubs as well,” she said.
Andrea Chapman, who is also working for the Red Cross, has been travelling door to door around the capital vaccinating people against measles.
She said she had probably immunised about 60 people in one day.
“Once you are there you know they all want vaccines – because there has been a lot of obviously anti-vaccine comments up until now – but now they’re all very keen to be vaccinated,” she said.
She said some households had kids with measles but they were on the path to recovery - and not in any danger.
“The children that are home – they just make a recovery – an uneventful recovery without complication,” she said.
Auckland University Immunisation Advisory Centre director Nikki Turner said it was unclear how long the epidemic would last.
“The answer is that people have either had measles now –or they urgently need to be immunised.”
“Once people have either had measles or they’re immunised – the virus can then no longer spread,” she said.
The New Zealand government is on standby with more support if it’s requested by Samoan authorities.