Samoa’s main streets are eerily quiet as the government stepped up efforts to curb a measles epidemic that has killed 62 people. The government told most public and private workers to stay home for two days and shut down roads to nonessential vehicles as teams began going door-to-door to administer vaccines. Families in the Pacific island nation were asked to hang red flags from their houses if they needed to be vaccinated.
Most of those who have died from the virus are young, with 54 deaths among children aged four or younger. The local newspaper said the normally bustling capital of Apia was a ghost town, with only birds nesting in the rooftops and stray dogs roaming the streets.
The prime minister, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, told reporters the vaccine drive was unprecedented in the nation’s history. He said one challenge was that a lot of people hadn’t considered that measles could be deadly.
“They seem to take a kind of lackadaisical attitude to all the warnings that we had issued through the television and also through the radio,” he said.
Another challenge, he said, was that some people had been seeking help from traditional healers, who had been successfully treating tropical diseases in Samoa for some 4,000 years.
“Some of our people pay a visit to traditional healers thinking that measles is a typical tropical disease, which it is not,” the prime minister said.