Samoa confirms 16 dead from suspected measles as outbreak worsens

Samoa's low level of immunisation has contributed to the devastating impact of the measles outbreak sweeping the Pacific.

A measles outbreak sweeping the Pacific has claimed 16 lives in Samoa with more than 100 new cases recorded in the last 24 hours. 

Samoa's National Emergency Operation Centre released new figures on Tuesday revealing the rapid spread of the infectious disease with 1,174 measles cases now confirmed.

That's up from 712 suspected cases reported in the last official update on Thursday and includes 114 cases reported in the last 24 hours alone.  

Most of the confirmed dead are children, including a seven-month-old baby. 

A mother grieves for her child who died of suspected measles.
Source: TVNZ

Many more are severely ill in intensive care units with concerns families are waiting too long to bring their sick children to hospital. 

The NEOC said 189 patients are being treated in hospital. 

The island nation declared a state of emergency on Friday, closing all schools and cracking down on public events.

All travellers to Samoa have been urged to ensure their vaccinations are up to date.

Children are the most vulnerable to measles, which typically causes a rash and fever but can also lead to brain damage and death.

The outbreak, believed to have originated in New Zealand, has spread across the Pacific, but has had a devastating impact in Samoa where about a third of its 200,000 citizens are unvaccinated. 

Public confidence in the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine plummeted last year when two Samoan nurses incorrectly administered the jab causing the death of two babies. 

In other Pacific nations, where vaccination rates are much higher at about 90 per cent, there have been no deaths reported.

Seven people have been quarantined in Fiji and Tonga has closed all public primary schools until 25 November with 251 people already infected.  

American Samoa has dismissed suggestions it will close the border with Samoa, but has introduced new requirements for anyone flying from Samoa to present proof of immunisation. 

New Zealand has reported more than 2,000 cases of measles in Auckland, while Australia has also been affected with 52 cases in Western Australia and Queensland.   

The Samoan Government has ordered all children and adults to be immunised, but are yet to finalise the logistics of the mass vaccination effort. 

"The confirmed dates for implementing the mass vaccination plan is forthcoming," a government statement posted early on Tuesday said. 

In the meantime, panicked parents have flocked to clinics to get their children vaccinated.

The government confirmed health facilities would continue to provide the vaccine, giving priority to children aged between six months and 19 years and women aged between 20 and 35 years.  

All schools, kindergartens and the country's only university are shut and children have been barred from attending any public gatherings including events and church services. 

Australia and New Zealand have provided medical teams to support hospitals and clinics deal with the influx of measles patients. 

Published 19 November 2019 at 11:59am, updated 19 November 2019 at 9:09pm