Pacific / Samoa

Samoa's health ministry urges NZ to control measles outbreak

14:20 pm on 18 October 2019

If New Zealand's measles outbreak is not brought under control soon, the emerging epidemic in Samoa will only get worse, Samoa's Health Ministry warns.

Director General of Health Leausa Dr Take Naseri (middle) with two senior doctors involved in the preparations and awareness of measles in Samoa. Photo: RNZ Pacific / Tipi Autagavaia

Samoa's government declared a measles outbreak this week, appealing for parents to vaccinate their children after a 14-month toddler "highly suspected" to have measles died in Apia.

Emergency procedures were underway as the government anticipated measles escalating, Samoa's Deputy Director General of Public Health Robert Thomsen said.

Health staff were being redirected, plans for an isolation ward were underway, and a push for the public to get their MMR shots was also in full swing, as the government reacted to lab results confirming measles in seven from 28 samples sent to Australia.

The original confirmed case in Samoa last week is understood to be the result of direct contact with an Aucklander attending a church conference in Samoa recently, not realising he had the viral illness until he returned home and authorities were alerted.

Speaking from Apia, Robert Thomsen said with measles being so contagious, Samoa and other Pacific nations like Fiji and Tonga were very vulnerable, and New Zealand needed to step up.

"If the outbreak in New Zealand is not under control anytime soon, then we will still continue to see a prolonged measles outbreak here.

"Because now...because of the travelling public, so many Samoans coming from there to here, and so many going from here to there."

Dr Thomsen said the immediate focus was on increasing vaccination coverage for Samoa's children but noone of any age seeking immunisation would be turned away.

Measles is very infectious and symptoms include a fever, cough, runny nose, sore and watery 'pink eyes,' and a rash.

From 1 January 2019 to 17 October 2019, there have been 1850 measles cases notified across New Zealand with 1495 of these in the Auckland region.

Interim data from Auckland Regional Public Health shows South Auckland's Pacific Island pre-schoolers are the most vulnerable group in the New Zealand 2019 outbreak.

Samoa's last measles epidemic was in 1985.

Meanwhile, results confirming the toddler's cause of death are expected within the next two weeks but doctors say measles is "highly suspected" based on clinical assessment and evaluation.

The child was admitted to hospital in Samoa on 8 October, with a medical history of febrile convulsions, cough and skin rash typical of measles, and associated severe dehydration. He died five days later.

A Samoan measles poster. Photo: Samoa Ministry of Health

Meanwhile, American Samoa is installing surveillance teams at its main airport checking on travellers from Samoa - in response to the measles epidemic.

The scrutiny also extends to arrivals at the main inter-island dock, while a travel alert for American Samoa residents heading to Samoa has also been issued.

The territory's health director, Motusa Tuileama Nua, said any traveller showing symptoms of measles, such as high fever or a rash, would be sent back to Samoa.

To date, there have been no reported measles cases in the US territory and local health authorities want to stop the epidemic spreading, with posters up carrying symptom information and advice for the sick.

Officials are checking school children's immunisation status and inoculating the unprotected with the Measles Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine.

The director pointed out none of the seven confirmed measles cases in Samoa had been immunised, and he urged parents to get protect their children with two doses of MMR.