Death toll passes 50 from Samoan measles epidemic

Red Cross volunteers in Samoa

Red Cross volunteers in Samoa

The government has closed all schools and banned children from public gatherings.

The aircraft and crew then flew to Nadi in Fiji to pick up 50,000 measles and rubella vaccines provided by UNICEF for the Samoan Government's vaccination programme. The government declared a state of emergency on November 15.

"There were 198 recorded [measles cases] in the last 24 hours", a statement from the ministry said.

Of the 53 killed, 48 were children who hadn't reached their fifth birthdays.

"Measles is not a new disease to Samoa and rarely claim lives".

Measles is created by a virus and can lead to risky complications including pneumonia and inflammation of the brain that can create permanent damage and be deadly, particularly in small children.

Samoa's rock-bottom coverage made this tragedy both heartbreakingly preventable and predictable.

Neighboring New Zealand and a number of other countries and organizations, including the United Nations agency UNICEF, have delivered thousands of vaccines, medical supplies and have sent medical personnel to help with the outbreak.

Officials have indicated the low rates in part on fears sparked previous year when two babies died after getting measles vaccination shots.

Ms Ardern said the natural curve of infection rates meant that "sometimes things can be worse before they are better".

Samoa reports that 58,150 immunisations have been delivered since the start of a mass-vaccination campaign a fortnight ago.

The death toll has been increasing steadily since the country declared a national measles epidemic in mid-October. Some 180 people remain in hospital, including 19 children who are in a critical condition. It is most often spread through coughing or sneezing, and can be prevented by vaccination.

New Zealand has also provided ICU specialists, Samoan-speaking doctors and nurses and oxygen generators to help local health systems, which have been pushed well beyond capacity.

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