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  • By Pacfic island Times News Staff

WHO to send reps to Pacific islands with elevated risks of measles outbreak

American Samoa receives $490K in federal funding for MMR vaccination efforts

American Samoa has received $490,000 from the U.S. Department of the Interior to prevent the spread of measles and help bolster efforts to vaccinate the entire population with the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccination in the territory, which currently has 11 cases of measles.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization is deploying staff to several Pacific islands with elevated risks related to measles and other infectious hazards, focusing on joint action planning and health security system strengthening. For the period of January to March 2020, these efforts will include Kiribati, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and Vanuatu.

“We are pleased to see that current efforts in American Samoa have been effective in stabilizing and preventing the spread of measles in the territory,” said Doug Domenech, DOI Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs. “This funding support will help American Samoa fully achieve their goal of bringing vaccination levels in the territory to 100 percent and bolster their ongoing efforts.”

While restrictions on public gatherings have been lifted, and school has resumed, the territory remains in a continued state of public health emergency and anyone traveling to the territory is required to provide proof of MMR vaccination as a condition for entry.

According to the Center for Disease Control’s Jan. 8 update, no new laboratory confirmed measles cases have been reported in American Samoa; however, four suspected cases are pending results from Hawaii State Laboratory.

American Samoa Gov. Lolo Moliga said the timely financial assistance “will go a long way to address the incurred financial expenditures emanating from the activities implemented to combat and preempt the spread of measles in American Samoa.”

Moliga thanked DOI “for continuing to be very sensitive and responsive to the needs of the Territory of American Samoa.”

As a result of a measles outbreak late last year in other parts of the Pacific and in the neighboring Independent State of Samoa where more than 80 people died from the disease, the U.S. territory declared a state of emergency on Nov. 13, 2019, to protect its residents against the spread of measles. On Dec. 8, 2019, the state of emergency was extended with restrictions on public gatherings and the closure of public and private schools.

As part of its campaign to protect its population, the American Samoa Government applied under the Technical Assistance Program for urgent needs funding from the Office of Insular Affairs to supplement an immunization campaign in the territory and conduct other protective measures.

As stated by the American Samoa’s Department of Health in its application, 82 percent of the population in American Samoa has already been immunized with the MMR vaccination, and funding assistance was requested to provide immunizations for the remaining eighteen percent, or 10,530 people, in the territory.

OIA funding will also support the purchase of medical supplies, lab equipment, and border patrol efforts as part of the ASG’s overall strategy to protect residents in the territory. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services continues to be the territory’s primary partner in these efforts.

According to CDC’s latest update, the measles outbreaks in affected Pacific Island and territories continued, but with fewer cases reported in the last week.

While low level of transmission continues in American Samoa, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, CDC said the overall situation has stabilized.

“The situation in other (Pacific Island countries) is being closely monitored with on-site deployment of experts for surveillance and remote preparedness support from WHO, UNICEF, and other partners,” CDC said.

“The risk of importation of measles cases, the susceptibility of the population, as well as the risk of a local or large scale measles outbreak and corresponding need for partner support, continuously monitored in all other PICs. The risk of importation of cases in PICs remains moderate, as inter- and intra-island movement will start in January 2020, after the holiday season.”


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