UK, NZ send medics to Samoa as measles outbreak kills 42

The health ministry says 3,149 cases of measles have been reported in the outbreak, with 213 in the last 24 hours.

    Other Pacific countries such as Tonga and Fiji are also grappling with a spike in the number of measles cases [File: Tim Wimborne/Reuters]
    Other Pacific countries such as Tonga and Fiji are also grappling with a spike in the number of measles cases [File: Tim Wimborne/Reuters]

    More countries have flown medical staff and supplies to Samoa to battle a measles outbreak that prompted the Pacific island to declare a state of emergency this month.

    The death toll has risen to 42, most of them children younger than four, the government said on Friday.

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    A significant drop in immunisation over the last few years has made Samoa highly vulnerable to outbreaks of disease, with the World Health Organization (WHO) saying vaccine coverage is about 31 percent on the island.

    Schools have been closed and a mass vaccination effort launched in the country of just 200,000 located south of the Equator halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand, with its government saying 50,068 people have been vaccinated.

    The health ministry said on Friday that 3,149 cases of measles have been reported in the outbreak, with 213 in the last 24 hours. Of the 197 victims in hospital, 20 are critically ill children and three are pregnant women, it added.

    Global crisis

    Neighbouring New Zealand said it was sending more supplies and personnel, including emergency medical assistance teams, nurse vaccinators, intensive care specialists and Samoan-speaking medical professionals.

    "The Samoan health system is under serious strain with growing numbers of people, many of whom are very young, needing complex care as a result of the measles outbreak," New Zealand's Foreign Minister Winston Peters said in a statement on Friday.

    New Zealand would also fund 100,000 more vaccines for measles and rubella, Peters added.

    The United Kingdom said a group of British doctors and nurses left on Friday to help Samoa's efforts to rein in the outbreak, while Australia said it had also sent medical personnel and supplies.

    Measles is caused by a highly contagious virus that spreads easily through coughing and sneezing.

    Cases are rising worldwide, including in developed countries such as Germany and the United States, as parents shun immunisation for philosophical or religious reasons, or for thoroughly disproven fears over the safety of vaccines.

    Other Pacific countries such as Tonga and Fiji are also grappling with a spike in the number of measles cases.

    Tonga has said its outbreak followed the return of a squad of its rugby players from New Zealand, where the biggest city - Auckland - is tackling a growing number of cases.

    The Viral Threat: Measles and Misinformation

    Fault Lines

    The Viral Threat: Measles and Misinformation

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency