20 January 2020, Suva, Fiji – In 2019, the Pacific saw the re-emergence of measles, with outbreaks declared in Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and American Samoa, and cases reported in Kiribati. For Samoa, the country experienced a widescale measles outbreak which had significant impact upon the country’s population and health system. The disease has cost lives, with infants and young children being most affected.
In response to the identification of measles in the region, many Pacific countries and areas have made serious efforts to close immunity gaps in their population and strengthen infectious disease prevention, surveillance and response systems. These efforts align to the core public health capacities required by all countries under the International Health Regulations (IHR) 2005, and critical to preventing and controlling the spread of infectious diseases, such as measles.
The governments of Samoa, Tonga and Fiji, have conducted vaccination campaigns aimed at closing immunity gaps in their populations to stop the transmission of the virus. These immunization activities are bringing the outbreaks under control. In Samoa, the mass immunization campaign which targeted individuals aged six months to 60 years achieved 95 per cent vaccination coverage, the rate needed to prevent measles transmission in a population. Fiji and Tonga continue immunizing those most at risk of measles to meet the target of 95 per cent and ensure that populations are protected. Other Pacific countries and areas have also conducted supplementary immunization activities to reduce the risk of potential measles outbreaks.
Due to the public health efforts of Pacific countries and areas, the risk of measles spreading in Samoa and in other Pacific Island countries and areas has notably reduced.
WHO, UNICEF and other partners continue to work closely with Pacific health authorities to respond to new measles cases; strengthen their systems to ensure the rapid detection and response to cases; and increase and sustain high immunization coverage rates for all vaccine-preventable diseases. Additionally, technical collaboration continues to ensure that all have strong health emergency management systems in place at all times.
WHO recommends that all individuals exercise standard health precautions when travelling abroad. In the Pacific, all individuals travelling between Pacific Island countries and areas, or to and from the Pacific are strongly advised to ensure they are up to date with their vaccinations at least two weeks prior to departing. Travelers should consult with their health provider about their immunization status and other health needs prior to departure.