SUVA, 6 November – In response to recent outbreaks of measles in the Pacific, and as the holiday season nears, UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO) are urging the public to ensure they are immunized before travelling internationally, attending sports events or other large community gatherings, and strongly encouraging parents to vaccinate their children against this serious disease. Vaccination provides the safest and best protection against measles.
On 16 October, the Samoa Ministry of Health declared a measles outbreak and on 22 October, the Tonga Ministry of Health issued a health advisory reporting confirmed cases of measles.
In response to these recent outbreaks, UNICEF and WHO are continuing to provide strong support and resources to assist Pacific Island countries in preparing for and responding to the threat of measles, including provision of 89,000 vaccines that will help to protect at-risk populations, including children, and in raising public awareness about the disease and the importance of vaccination. In addition, support is being provided on the surveillance and outbreak responses, access to laboratories for testing, and provision of medical supplies.
“Children are the most at risk during a measles outbreak. UNICEF is working together with WHO to support governments in the Pacific to respond to those communities affected and to ensure vaccines are readily available to reach children with lifesaving vaccines as quickly as possible,” said Sheldon Yett, UNICEF Pacific Representative.
WHO recommends at least 95 per cent immunization coverage is needed to achieve ‘herd immunity’ for measles, which helps protect communities by slowing or stopping the spread of the virus through ensuring that most of the population is immune. Herd immunity also provides the best protection for the most vulnerable members of our community who can’t be vaccinated, including young infants, unvaccinated pregnant women and individuals with weakened immune systems. In the Pacific, as in other parts of the world, some countries have yet to reach this target which means they are at greater risk of outbreaks.
WHO’s Representative to the South Pacific, Dr Corinne Capuano, advised that “Two doses of the measles vaccine provide the greatest protection from the disease – providing an individual with around 99 per cent protection. People who are travelling internationally can also help protect themselves and Pacific communities by making sure they are immunized before departure. This will prevent the virus from spreading.”
It is critical that children and adults ensure they are up-to-date with their vaccinations, as per their national schedule. Travellers who are uncertain of their measles vaccination status should receive at least one dose of vaccine at least 15 days prior to travel.
Measles is a serious, very infectious disease caused by a virus. It spreads easily from person to person through the air, by breathing, coughing and sneezing. Anyone who hasn’t previously had measles or been immunized with a measles vaccine can get measles.
Stay Alert for Measles Signs and Symptoms!
If a person gets measles, initial symptoms generally appear 10–12 days after being infected (timeframes range from 7–18 days). Initial symptoms include high fever, runny nose and sneezing, cough, red, watery eyes (conjunctivitis) and white spots inside the mouth. Three to five days after these initial symptoms a red, blotchy, non-blistering rash will start at the hairline and behind the ears, spreading over the face and then down the body. The rash isn’t itchy.
If you suspect that you or your child may have measles, it is critical that you notify your doctor or health provider and avoid crowds and public spaces to stop the spread of measles.
Notes to Editors:
The World Health Organization is the United Nation’s specialized agency for international public health. In the Pacific, WHO’s Division of Pacific Technical Support provides tailored, timely support to 21 Pacific island countries and areas. Our main office is in Suva, Fiji, and the Division has six other offices across the region: the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.