Precaution and prayer, as Samoa fights measles epidemic

“Talofa” means hello in Samoa but the general greeting today across the island nation is “are you vaccinated?”

With a measles epidemic already causing more than 60 deaths – almost all of them are children, aged under five – the Samoan Government has been shut down for today and tomorrow to assist mass vaccinations.

“I feel sad that I cannot reach out to the many affected …” – Nuuausala Siaosi

“We as a nation … are united in it as we stand with our Government’s efforts to get everyone vaccinated,” pastor Nuuausala Siaosi tells Eternity, as a door-to-door vaccination campaign rolls out across Samoa.

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“This is a very difficult time for our people.”

Samoa is home to 200,000 people and about 4,200 cases of measles already have been reported. In part, the measles outbreak has been linked to a drop in vaccinations following the deaths of two Samoan children in 2018 from an incorrectly mixed vaccine.

The Samoan Government officially declared a state of emergency on November 15. Five days later, the national Measles Vaccination Campaign began with mobile sites and vaccine booths. UNICEF delivered 115,500 doses of measles vaccines, with more than 33,500 individuals vaccinated across Samoa.

Siaosi leads Apia Protestant Church in Apia and is a board member of Bible Society of the South Pacific. He is also a concerned husband, father and grandfather who is torn between wanting to help affected families while being protective of his own family.

“I feel sad that I cannot reach out to the many affected as we did during the tsunami in 2009, where our church was one of the first to reach the affected area and gave help,” explains Siaosi. “This time I cannot risk helping out there because of my concern for my grandkids, as we all live in the same house.

“That is not me; my inner being just gets disturbed because of [being unable to help].

“We watch from TV [and] cry with the families affected and pray for them.”

Siaosi was glad to discover last weekend that all children in his church already had been vaccinated. His church still cancelled Sunday school and a special Christmas tree event, though, to encourage families to stay indoors. Apia Protestant Church is holding a prayer gathering every Wednesday during the measles outbreak, and also supports its members with relevant skills.

“Some of our medical personnel members – doctors and nurses – are working very hard indeed day in and day out. We stand to be an encouragement to them and their work.”

“Our story is that of prevention.”

Siaosi’s daughters have come close to the measles outbreak. One of his daughters went into labour as measles cases started to escalate, and was discharged only hours after delivery “for the fear of infecting.”

“A few days later, my other daughter who is a medical doctor and paediatrician, was stopped from working as she is also expecting in January.”

“I have a grandniece who stays with us and who is a registered nurse; precaution is the story in our house.

“When she comes home she has to stay outside and have a wash from the ‘back house’ – wash her uniforms and sleep there, for precaution’s sake. Our baby’s room is out of bounds to her.

“Our story is that of prevention. [I am] very protective of our grandchildren, as a father and grandfather.”

Having stocked up for these two days of Samoan shutdown, Siaosi encourages his congregation and other Christians at this time to pray and fast for the health of their nation.

He also hopes they can comfort those around them, as well as “talk positively, not negatively” during the measles crisis. Beyond this shutdown stage of a national emergency, Siaosi and his church already are trying to pinpoint how they can help Samoa’s recovery.

“We are indeed looking out for opportunities, perhaps when the epidemic dies down, and we can then move in to be in the rebuilding stage ….”

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