Samoa measles deaths rise above 50, mostly small children

Masked children wait to get vaccinated at a health clinic in Apia Samoa

A view of the capital Apia in Samoa.

The death toll in Samoa's measles outbreak has risen to 48, with four dying in 24 hours over the weekend, the country's government reported Sunday.

Of the 48 deaths, 44 where among children under the age of four. Of the total deaths, 50 involved children under the age of 15.

"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", Foreign Minister Winston Peters said in a statement Friday.

The government said more than 1,100 people had been admitted to hospital since the outbreak began.

Measles cases are rising worldwide, even in wealthy nations such as Germany and the United States, as parents shun immunization for philosophical or religious reasons, or fears, debunked by doctors, that such vaccines could cause autism.

A measles disease in Samoa has killed 39 people, with the World Health Organization (WHO) accusing an anti-vaccine messaging campaign of leaving the Pacific island nation exposed to the spread of the virus.

There are now 183 measles cases who are in-patients at all health facilities.

The government said nearly 200 new measles cases had been recorded since Sunday, with the rate of infection showing no sign of slowing despite a compulsory mass vaccination programme.

Dr Helen Petousis-Harris, a vaccinologist at the University of Auckland, said there were pockets of the community where immunisation rates had slipped, allowing the disease to take hold.

"I don't think that the response here has been a shining example". However, no deaths were reported and a higher coverage rate was found in the countries.

The country's immunisation programme was also temporarily suspended.

The government started a mandatory vaccination program November 20 after declaring a state of emergency because of the outbreak.

Neighboring New Zealand and a number of other countries and organizations, including the U.S. agency UNICEF, have provided thousands of vaccines and medical supplies and dispatched medical personnel to help with the outbreak.



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