9 Dec 2019

Samoa's measles crisis: A photoessay

8:46 am on 9 December 2019

The death toll from measles in Samoa is continuing to rise, but the government says thanks to a two day mass vaccination programme 89 percent of people have now been vaccinated. This is Samoa's measles crisis, in pictures.

Two more deaths in the past 24 hours have pushed the toll to 65, with 165 people still in hospital, as the country is gripped by the disease. These include 20 critically ill children and three pregnant women. Of the deaths, at least 55 have been in children under five.

The government ordered a shutdown of the nation on Thursday and Friday to try to cope with the epidemic.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said more than 20,000 vaccines were administered over the space of the two-day lockdown designed to stem the tide of the deadly measles epidemic, with vaccination teams visiting households to administer shots.

The Samoan government said the two day shutdown of the country to allow as many as possible to be vaccinated has resulted in a massive increase in coverage.

The director of the Disaster Advisory Committee, Ulu Bismarck Crawley, said the national vaccination rate is now 89 percent, including 82 percent of children under 5, the most at risk group.

The government said that having successfully vaccinated so many people, it can now concentrate on treating the infected.

A goal of 90 percent vaccination coverage for the country had been hoped for, however last year coverage had fallen to as low as a third.

On Monday, Samoa expanded the eligibility of the vaccination programme, which has been made mandatory under local law.

Measles vaccinations are now available for people aged six months to 60 years.

The Samoan Ministry of Health says there have been 4357 measles cases reported since the outbreak began.

With the epidemic in full swing, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) are calling for a renewed effort to eliminate measles.

The disease killed 140,000 people last year - mostly children - and globally cases in 2018 were up 167 per cent compared with 2016, according to new figures released by the CDC and the WHO earlier this week.

Over the last 18 years, the WHO and the CDC estimate measles vaccinations have saved more than 23 million lives.