Samoa Health Director confident no repeat of 2019 measles epidemic

Aiono Dr Alec Ekeroma

The Director General of Health, Aiono Dr Alec Ekeroma is confident that Samoa will not see a repetition of the measles crisis of 2019.

The Ministry has put in place stringent travel requirements as neighbouring American Samoa is under a health State of Emergency with the threat of a measles outbreak in the territory.

“I am confident that so far what happened in 2019 will not happen again,” said Aiono.

He was referring to the 2019 measles epidemic that claimed 89 lives, mostly children and the Ministry is not taking any chances.

The Director General is confident of Samoa’s current measles vaccination rate and coverage.

“In 2018, only 25 percent of children had their MMR1 and MMR2 injections, but currently 90 percent of children have had their MMR1 and 60 percenr MMr2,” said Aiono.

“The vaccination rate is high so what happened in 2019 will not happen again,” he said.

He commended Savaii which has 90% coverage of measles vaccination but there is quite a number that need to complete vaccinations in Upolu.

He however emphasised that having a good vaccination rate does not mean there won’t be any preventative measures and strategies to be in place.

Aiono’s concern is the timing the measles has hit American Samoa and the influenza B currently spreading in Samoa.

“We are in a situation where we do not have enough staff to cope with the current influenza B, and if the measles does enter Samoa, then we need to ask New Zealand and Australia for assistance,” said Aiono.

He said the measles will eventually enter Samoa at some stage hence the travel advisory between Samoa and American Samoa.

Samoa will continue to monitor travellers from American Samoa and they will not be allowed to enter Samoa if they can’t provide their vaccination certificates, and swap tests will be carried out.

One of the major issues Aiono touched upon is the effectiveness of public awareness programmes conducted by the Ministry on television, newspapers and social media.

Other than providing preventative responses through the health mobile service, public awareness for parents to have their young children vaccinated is of prime importance. The Director General says the measles drive campaign continues on the media but the Ministry is revamping its Health of the Nation media strategy.