Samoa shuts schools, declares emergency as measles kills 6

Samoa closed all its schools on Monday, Nov. 18, 2019, banned children from public gatherings and mandated that everybody get vaccinated after declaring an emergency due to a measles outbreak. (AP)
Updated 18 November 2019

Samoa shuts schools, declares emergency as measles kills 6

  • Schools were closed from Monday after the government declared an emergency on Saturday
  • The National University of Samoa told students to stay home and said exams scheduled for this week had been indefinitely postponed

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: Samoa has closed all its schools, banned children from public gatherings and mandated that everybody get vaccinated after declaring an emergency due to a measles outbreak that has so far killed six people.

For the past three weeks, the Pacific island nation of 200,000 people has been in the grip of a measles epidemic that has been exacerbated by low immunization rates.

Schools were closed from Monday after the government declared an emergency on Saturday. The National University of Samoa also told students to stay home and said exams scheduled for this week had been indefinitely postponed.

Health authorities said most of those who died were under the age of 2. They counted 716 measles cases reported, with nearly 100 people still hospitalized including 15 in intensive care.

Samoa’s Director General of Health Leausa Take Naseri said in a news conference last week that he expects the epidemic will get worse. He said that only about two-thirds of Samoans had been vaccinated, leaving the others vulnerable to the virus.

But figures from the World Health Organization and UNICEF indicate that measles immunization rates among Samoan infants have fallen steeply from over 70 percent in 2013 to under 30 percent last year.

Helen Petousis-Harris, a vaccine expert at New Zealand’s University of Auckland, said the Samoan government halted its immunization program for several months last year after two infants died from a medical mishap involving a vaccine.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday it was sending 3,000 vaccines to Samoa as well as nurses and medical supplies.
Ardern said Samoan authorities believe the outbreak was started by a traveler from New Zealand.

“We, of course, have an open flow of people,” Ardern said. “But we see our responsibility as supporting Samoa as they deal with the outbreak, and we are doing that actively.”

Petousis-Harris said it was disappointing that people in New Zealand who were carrying the virus had traveled to Samoa. She said New Zealand has for years known it has immunity gaps.

“But we didn’t deal with the problem,” she said.

Tonga, Fiji and New Zealand have also reported outbreaks of measles but on a smaller scale than in Samoa.


G5 Sahel leaders pay tribute to 71 soldiers slain in Niger

Updated 15 December 2019

G5 Sahel leaders pay tribute to 71 soldiers slain in Niger

NIAMEY: Leaders of the G5 Sahel nations held summit talks in Niamey Sunday, after the death last week of 71 Niger soldiers in a jihadist attack, calling for closer cooperation and international support in the battle against the Islamist threat.
Burkina Faso President Roch Marc Christian Kabore, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the regional G5 group, called for a minute’s silence for the victims of Tuesday’s attack at a military camp in Inates, near the Mali border.
“These endless attacks carried out by terrorist groups in our region remind us not only of the gravity of the situation, but also the urgency for us to work more closely together,” said Kabore.
“The terrorist threat against the Sahel countries is getting worse,” said Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou, the host of the summit.
The attacks were aimed not just at military targets but increasingly “civilian populations, notably traditional local leaders.”
Earlier four of the five Sahel leaders paid homage at the graves of 71 Niger military personnel killed. Kabore and Issoufou attended along with Mali’s Ibrahim Boubakar Keita, Chad’s Idriss Deby Itno for the short ceremony at an air base in Niamey.
The Daesh group claimed responsibility for the assault, in which hundreds of jihadists attacked a camp near the border with Mali with shells and mortars.
The attack in Inates in the western Tillaberi region was the deadliest on Niger’s military since Islamist militant violence began to spill over from neighboring Mali in 2015, and dealt a blow to efforts to roll back extremism in the Sahel.
At Sunday’s ceremony, a large panel painted in the red, white and green of the Niger flag bore the inscription; “rest in peace, worthy and valiant sons of the nation. The Fatherland will be eternally grateful.”
The G5 leaders announced on Saturday they would hold the extraordinary summit in Niger to show solidarity and to “consult” after the large-scale attack. The meeting had originally been due to take place in the Burkinabe capital Ouagadougou.
Niger has been observing three days of national mourning from Friday to Sunday.
Militant violence has spread across the vast Sahel region, especially in Burkina Faso and Niger, having started when armed Islamists revolted in northern Mali in 2012.
In the last four months, the insurgency has claimed the lives of more than 230 soldiers in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso. Last month, 13 French troops were killed in a helicopter collision while hunting jihadists in northern Mali.
Thousands of civilians have also died and more than a million have been forced to flee their homes since the jihadist revolt began.
Analysts note an escalation in the jihadists’ operational tactics, which seem to have become bolder and more complex in recent months.
From hit-and-run raids by a small group of Kalashnikov-armed guerrillas, the extremists are now carrying out operations that involve hundreds of fighters, armed with mortars and using vehicles for suicide attacks.
Ranged against them are the impoverished armies of Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, plus a 4,500-man French force in the Sahel and the 13,000-man UN force in Mali, MINUSMA.
Tuesday’s attack prompted French President Emmanuel Macron to postpone a meeting scheduled for next week in the southwestern French town of Pau, where he and five presidents from the Sahel were due to discuss security in the region.
The talks will now take place early next year.
The Sahel region of Africa lies to the south of the Sahara Desert and stretches across the breadth of the African continent.