As Samoa grapples with an unprecedented measles epidemic, the United Nations Development Programme is working with the Government of Samoa to improve the collection, processing, analysis, and dissemination of critical health information to rebuild public confidence about vaccines, especially at the community level.
This is done through a partnership with the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development, which plays a key role in community awareness and outreach regarding the outbreak, and is part of a United Nations-wide campaign to try and stop the spread of the disease.
Outreach activities and mass awareness campaigns are critical to address public concerns about vaccines. This includes a survey that generates daily community feedback on the efficiency of the mass awareness campaign. Issues, challenges and gaps in the response at community level, including identification of unvaccinated and untreated sick children, are being recorded daily. This information is transmitted to relevant authorities through the National Emergency Operation Centre for immediate action and assistance. This real time feedback loop improves targeting of efforts where most needed.
In the post-emergency and recovery phase, UNDP stands ready to assist the government in rebuilding a resilient health system.
“We stand with the Government and people of Samoa during this time and UNDP lends its full support to the work being done to deal with this outbreak,” said Mr Jorn Sorensen, UNDP’s Resident Representative in Samoa.
Samoa, with a population of nearly 200,000, declared a state of emergency on November 15. To date, about 4,000 cases of measles and 62 deaths have been reported. Children under the age of 5 represent more than half the measles cases and over 90% of reported deaths.
Misinformation about vaccines is a key cause for concern. Inaccurate information and fear have been attributed as contributing to a low vaccination rate and late treatment for children under the age of five, which has resulted in fatalities.
Since November 20, around 65,000 Samoans have been vaccinated through a mass vaccination campaign. There are 40 fixed vaccination sites and a growing number of mobile vaccination clinics going door to door. Schools are closed and restrictions have been placed on the movements and gatherings of young people, to try to stop the spread of the disease.
The government has ordered a complete shutdown of public services and businesses on December 5 and 6 to try and bridge the vaccination gap.
Local and international emergency medical teams are working round the clock to treat a steady flow of measles cases. The majority of cases are being treated at the main hospital at Moto’otua.
The current situation stems from a combination of record low measles vaccine coverage in Samoa, a resurgence of the highly contagious virus in neighboring countries, and a relatively low level of information and confidence in the measles vaccine amongst the public. The concern about vaccinations in Samoa was exacerbated by false information on social media, and a vaccine related incident, which cost the lives of two children, in 2018.
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