6 Dec 2019

Samoa measles epidemic: Inside the hospitals

From Checkpoint, 5:14 pm on 6 December 2019

In Samoa, two days of national shut-down have come to a close, and more than 100 vaccination vans are returning to Apia - many from remote villages.

Almost everyone has been staying at home under government emergency orders, but the very sick have been staying in hospital.

While most of the 63 deaths have been in Apia and most of the sick are in the main hospital, there are also sick children in the remote district hospitals.

Four patients were being treated at Poutasi District Hospital. Checkpoint was granted exclusive access to the measles ward. The reporters are fully immunised and were wearing masks.

Poutasi village is on the south coast of Samoa's main island, Upolu. The hospital was damaged by the earthquake that caused the devastating tsunami 10 years ago.

Now a new crisis has hit the country, but it is hitting in small deadly waves and people do not know when it will stop.

New mum Filirosa Paviti is at her baby's bedside. The baby is covered in a red rash.

"The baby is only three weeks old," paramount chief Tuatagaloa Joe Annandale said.

Nurse Fenumiai Kiribati said she is improving since she was admitted yesterday, with the fever dropping.

Thirteen-year-old Junior Otineru looks exhausted but relieved, as he prepares to head home.

His mum Lily is at the hospital to also visit her nephew Samuelu Ricky who is on the mend but still in pain.

"[He is] one year, eight months old. He's better now."

She says last week he was much worse. "The eyes were very bad - the red inside the eyes."

More than 120 vaccination teams went out on Thursday across Samoa. We were told at the end of the day about 5500 vaccinations were given out on the first day of the government shutdown.

Photo: RNZ / Logan Church

Nurse and midwife Fenumiai Kiribati has delivered the region's babies for 20 years. She knows all the babies and children suffering from measles at the hospital.

She has been working around the clock to help them get well.

"The first time when measles [was] presenting here, we contacted the main hospital and sent the patients in an ambulance."

She said since then, they have been able to treat measles patients at Poutasi Hospital, with help from Apia.

It is sometimes hard to convince people to get their kids vaccinated, Ms Kiribati said.

She goes out on the road herself to tell them it could be the difference between life and death.

There are many parents around Samoa with children suffering, with many questions about how the epidemic was dealt with and why so many children had to die.

They are questions the Prime Minister said he cannot answer yet. But many people say his government's Ministry of Health has made a monumental mistake.

The government shutdown and official door-to-door vaccinations have finished, but Funimiai Kiribati's work is far from over.