10 Dec 2019

Samoan nurses working in measles epidemic 'tired' and in need of relief - academic

5:37 pm on 10 December 2019

Nurses and doctors dealing with the measles epidemic in Samoa are overworked - some have been doing 24-hour shifts - and in need of relief, says a Samoan-New Zealand academic.

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.

A health professional during an immunisation drive last week when more than 120 vaccination teams went out across Samoa. Photo: RNZ / Logan Church

Local health systems have been strained by a disease that's killed 70 people since October and all but nine of the deaths are children under the age of four.

Dozens of nurses and doctors from Australia and New Zealand have been flown in periodically to relieve vaccination nurses working around the clock as part of a mass measles immunisation drive.

Samoa's government said on Sunday it had vaccinated about 90 percent of the population.

But officials have warned local health systems, and especially nurses working since the mass vaccination campaign started in October, are struggling.

Faumuina Faafetai Sopoaga, an associate professor at the University of Otago, said she saw local health workers doing 24-hour shifts during a visit to Samoa in November.

"They are tired," Ms Sopoaga said.

Faumuina is helping coordinate 40 Samoan doctors from Australia and New Zealand who will deploy to Samoa for three months as part of volunteer network Samoan Doctors Worldwide. The group is made up of unpaid volunteers who will work closely with Samoa's Ministry of Health to relieve local workers.

"When you're in the front line, when you're dealing with people's health, you need rest - you can't actually function very well when you're working long hours."

Samoa would need help recovering from the epidemic for most of next year and once the posting finished in March, Samoan Doctors Worldwide was planning to send more doctors, she said.

This week, the UK government is sending 14 medics to Samoa, and Israel has already sent a team of 10 doctors and nurses that arrived Monday.

Meanwhile, for the first time in two weeks, there have been no measles-related deaths in Samoa today.

The toll from the epidemic remains at 70; all but nine of the deaths have been children.

The government said on Tuesday that it had vaccinated around 91 percent of the population.

But the vaccine takes around 10 days to provide immunity and there were another 87 measles' cases recorded in the past 24 hours.

There are 169 people who remain in hospital, including 21 critically ill children.

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