No fewer than 50 people have died from a measles outbreak in the latest flare-up of a global epidemic of the virus in the small Pacific island nation of Samoa.
In just more than two weeks, the official death toll rose to 53 on Monday, the Samoan government said as the nation closed schools and is restricting travel ahead of the Christmas holiday season.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the highly infectious disease has been crossing the globe, recently finding a susceptible population in Samoa, where vaccine coverage was only about 31 percent when measles took hold.
There are now over 3,700 cases of measles recorded in the island, home to about 200,000 people.
“Five children died overnight,” Nanai Laveitiga Tuiletufuga, Samoa Prime Minister’s Office press secretary told journalists.
“A total of 53 people have died. Of these, 50 were children under the age of 15 while 23 were babies aged less than one year old … In the last 24 hours a further 198 cases have also been confirmed by the Ministry of Health,” she added.
Measles cases are rising worldwide, including nations such as Germany and the United States, as parents ignore immunisation for philosophical or religious reasons, or fears that such vaccines could cause autism.
In October, the WHO warned of a devastating comeback in measles epidemics around the world as the number of reported cases rose by 300 percent in the first three months of 2019.
On November 20, Samoa declared an emergency in the nation and mandated that all 200,000 people living on the island get vaccinated.
It said about 33,000 people were vaccinated before last month and a further 58,000 since.
Measles, a highly contagious virus that can easily be contracted through coughing and sneezing, has been reported in other Pacific nations, including Tonga and Fiji, but there have been no reports of deaths in those countries, which have greater vaccination coverage.