Samoa shuts down amid deadly measles epidemic
Samoa's main streets were eerily quiet today as the government stepped up efforts to curb a measles epidemic that has killed 62 people.
The government told most public and private workers to stay home today and tomorrow and shut down roads to nonessential vehicles as teams began going door-to-door to administer vaccines.
Families in the Pacific island nation were asked to hang red flags from their houses if they needed to be vaccinated.
Most of those who have died from the virus are young, with 54 deaths among children aged four or younger.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi told reporters the vaccine drive was unprecedented in the nation's history.
He said one challenge was that a lot of people hadn't considered that measles could be deadly.
"They seem to take a kind of lackadaisical attitude to all the warnings that we had issued through the television and also through the radio," he said.
Another challenge, he said, was that others had been seeking help from traditional healers, who had been successfully treating tropical diseases in Samoa for some 4,000 years.
"Some of our people pay a visit to traditional healers thinking that measles is a typical tropical disease, which it is not," the prime minister said.
Samoan authorities believe the virus was first spread by a traveller from New Zealand.
The Government of Samoa declared a one-month state of emergency on November 15, and mandated that all 200,000 people get vaccinated. The government has also closed all schools and banned children from public gatherings.
The Tongan Ministry of Health declared a measles outbreak on October 22. In Fiji, The Ministry of Health declared an outbreak of the disease on November 7.
There is also an outbreak in New Zealand, which is largely concentrated around Auckland.
According to the Samoan government, more than 4,000 people have contracted the disease since the outbreak began and 172 people remain in hospitals, including 19 children in critical condition.
Figures from the World Health Organization and UNICEF indicate that fewer than 30 per cent of Samoan infants were immunised last year.
That low rate was exacerbated by a medical mishap that killed two babies who were administered a vaccine that had been incorrectly mixed, causing wider delays and distrust in the vaccination program.
Smart Traveller's advice for Australians in the region is to exercise normal safety precautions in Samoa.
Tourists are urged to check their vaccinations are up to date and discuss travel with your doctor if you have children, are pregnant, or immunocompromised.
Nine.com.au has contacted the Department and Foreign Affairs and Trade for comment.
- With Associated Press.