15 Nov 2019

Samoa's measles outbreak: 'Worst to come'

4:16 pm on 15 November 2019

The worst is still to come in Samoa's measles epidemic, according to the country's top health official.

There have now been six confirmed deaths and more than 700 suspected measles cases, with 15 people in intensive care.

A live coldchain vaccine delivery of MMR in Samoa.

A live coldchain vaccine delivery of MMR in Samoa. Photo: RNZ Pacific / Jenny Meyer

Samoa's Director General of Health, Leausa Dr Take Naseri, said low immunisation coverage had left around a third of the population at risk.

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, he suggested more deaths would likely follow.

"The way it is going now and the poor coverage, we are anticipating the worst to come."

The six confirmed deaths are mostly children under two-years-old, who were all unvaccinated, a press release from the Samoan government said.

Dr Naseri said from 2008-2009, immunisation rates for measles were as low as 41 per cent.

A measles epidemic was declared in Samoa last month.

Leausa Take Naseri

Leausa Take Naseri Photo: RNZ Pacific / Autagavai Tipi Autagavai

Meanwhile, New Zealand is sending vaccines and nurses to Samoa to help the country tackle its worsening measles outbreak.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters said that at the request of the Samoan government, New Zealand would provide 3000 measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccines and 12 nurses to help contain the "serious and growing" outbreak.

The outbreak in the Pacific is also sweeping Tonga, Fiji, and American Samoa, which yesterday declared a public health emergency requiring all visitors coming from Samoa or Tonga to provide proof of MMR immunisation.

Two universities in Samoa have cancelled graduation ceremonies as the epidemic, declared last month, continues to grow.