Samoa measles outbreak claims 53 lives, mostly children
Canberra - At least 53 people, mostly children, have died in Samoa due to a measles outbreak since last month, despite a state of emergency being in place, the Pacific island government said.
According to the latest update on Monday, 3,728 measles cases had been reported since the outbreak of the infectious disease, the Samoan ministry of health said.
Monday's death toll of 53 is up from 20 reported a week ago. All but four of the deaths recorded were children under the age of 4, the Samoan government said in a press release.
Five fatalities were in the last 24 hours, the government said, and 198 new cases had been reported since Saturday.
Since mid-November, the government has declared a state of emergency and closed schools and a university. Anyone aged under 19 is barred from public gatherings.
According to Radio New Zealand (RNZ), the measles outbreak in the Pacific is believed to have originated in New Zealand, but has now affected other countries, including in Fiji and Tonga.
Samoa has been hit the hardest due to low vaccination rates, with the vaccination rate at 28 to 40 per cent, according to UNICEF.
Since the outbreak, the government has spent millions of dollars on a mass vaccination campaign.
Since November 20, over 58,000 people aged from 6 months to 60 years old have been successfully vaccinated - more than a quarter of the total population.
Also, Samoa announced the closing of all government offices, except for water an electricity authorities, on Thursday and Friday so that public sector workers could help with the vaccination campaign.
In a nationwide address on Monday evening, Prime Minister Tuila'epa Sa'ilele Maleilegaoi said the government closures would allow workers to reach the at-risk population in the vaccination campaign.
Meanwhile, Samoa police have warned the Samoans not to defy curfew orders during the state of emergency after some people defied the orders by taking their children to public gatherings, including church services, the Samoa Observer newspaper reported.
Papalii Monalisa Tiai-Keti, Samoa's deputy police commissioner, said police could even resort to arrest or charging people for defying the orders, according to Radio New Zealand.dpa