The official death toll from a measles outbreak in Samoa has climbed to 53, the government said on Monday, as more than 100 new cases of infection in the small Pacific nation are being identified every day.
Most of those killed have been young children; 48 of them were under the age of four. To date more than 3,700 cases have been reported, with 198 new cases registered between Sunday and Monday, in a population of 200,000 islanders.
Measles is a highly contagious virus that is spread through coughing and sneezing. The number of cases are rising globally, even in wealthy nations such as Germany and the US, as parents avoid immunising their children because of philosophical or religious reasons, or fears, debunked by doctors, that such vaccines could cause autism.
Earlier this year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said the killer disease was on the rise as the number of reported cases rose by 300 per cent in the first three months of this year. It added that the global vaccine coverage is only about 31 per cent.
Samoa was particularly vulnerable to an outbreak as the number of citizens getting immunised had dropped.
The nation declared a state of emergency on November 20, and with the help of international donors including New Zealand and Australia, is racing to administer vaccines to children, with 58,150 people vaccinated so far. Schools and universities have been closed and most public gatherings are currently banned.
Fellow Pacific nations Tonga and Fiji have reported measles cases but no deaths, due to a higher vaccination rate.