Pacific face measles challenge

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By ILIESA TORA

SUVA, Fiji – November 19, 2019: 8pm: (Nuku’alofa Times): The Pacific Island Countries of Samoa, Fiji and Tonga are challenged by the measles outbreak that has taken the islands over in the last four weeks.

UNICEF has stepped in to help with measles vaccines but the effect is already telling.

At least 16 deaths have been reported by the media in Apia. One family lost three children – a two year old boy and his younger one year old twins.

The latest victim is a seven month old child from Savai’i.

Samoa has since declared a State of Emergency.

The Samoan Ministry of Health had stated today that 1,174 cases of measles have been reported, with 114 reported on Monday.

A live coldchain vaccine delivery of MMR in Samoa. Photo: RNZ Pacific / Jenny Meyer

Majority of the cases are on the island of Upolu.

American Samoa has taken the preventive measure to implement vaccination while Fiji and Tonga have also taken the same stance.

Tonga;s Education Minister Hon Siaosi Sovaleni last week called for the closure of all primary and middle schools in Tonga.

He said this was a preventive step taken to help prevent the spread of measles to children.

Media here in Fiji reported seven cases within the Serua/Namosi Health Division.

In Lautoka members of the Tonga women’s rugby team have also been quarantined and their match against Australia A on Monday was called off.

The island of Tokelau has also taken preventive measures.

Immigration rules have been tightened which now demands that all passengers who come through Apia will have to show proof of vaccination before they will be allowed to board the boat for Tokelau.

Passengers have to travel by boat from Apia to Tokelau.

Meanwhile, UNICEF is supporting the Government of Samoa to respond to the measles outbreak in the country.

The Government of Samoa officially declared a state of emergency on 15 November 2019.

Measles outbreaks were also declared in the Kingdom of Tonga on  October 24 and in Fiji on November 7.

As of 5 November, 177 cases have been confirmed in Tonga with no deaths. In Fiji, the four confirmed cases and one suspected case were contained in one specific area of Namosi and Serua Subdivision, west of the capital of Suva.

UNICEF has deployed health and communication staff in Samoa to boost the government’s immunization campaign and delivered a total of 110,500 doses of measles containing vaccines (100,000 MR and 10,500 MMR) and 30, 000 Vitamin A tablets. In addition, 6 refrigerators and three emergency response trolleys used as immunization service stations are being shipped to Samoa.

UNICEF has also delivered vaccines to Tonga, Fiji and Niue, and has worked with the governments of Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Cook Islands, Niue, Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) in conducting their measles immunization campaigns and developing their preparedness plans for an outbreak.

UNICEF and the World Health Organization jointly prepared a communication toolkit and resources for measles prevention, which was immediately shared with Samoa, Tonga and Fiji, as the first Pacific Island Countries affected by the measles outbreak.

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