The death toll from a measles outbreak in Samoa has risen to 53, after five children died of the infection in the past day, as the authorities step up efforts to vaccinate the entire population against the deadly disease.
The government said on Monday that most deaths were those under the age of four, including 23 babies who were less than 12 months old. Of the total deaths, 50 involved children under the age of 15.
More than 3,700 cases of measles have been recorded in the islands’ population of about 200,000, with 198 new cases reported between Sunday and Monday.
Measles cases are rising worldwide, even in wealthy nations such as Germany and the United States, as parents shun immunisation for philosophical or religious reasons, or fears, debunked by doctors, that such vaccines could cause autism.
@samoagovt expands its vaccination age for the Mass Vaccination Campaign 2019.
— Government of Samoa (@samoagovt) December 1, 2019
The World Health Organization (WHO) warned in October 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 this year.
It says about 33,000 people were vaccinated before last month and a further 58,000 people have been vaccinated since.
Schools and universities have been closed and most public gatherings banned.
Measles, a highly contagious virus that spreads easily 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.
Al Jazeera and news agencies