BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme reported on the measles outbreak this morning. Their report included an interview with Stephen Owens, the clinical lead for the UK EMT.
In the interview, Stephen speaks of the challenges faced in Samoa and the pressures on hospitals to tackle the outbreak: “I think 2% of the entire population has been infected. We’re seeing a lot of complicated bacterial pneumonias and, in some cases, with some multi-drug resistant organisms. We’re seeing inflammation of the lungs, secondary to the virus, and inflammation of the brain. So it’s a fairly high acuity situation and very challenging to work in.”
There is a terrible warning to the world coming from Samoa as an outbreak of measles has killed 62 people, most of them young children. Samoa used to have a high rate of vaccination but it’s fallen from 90% of the population to a little over 30%. Dr Stephen Owens is a paediatric infectious diseases consultant who is part of the UK aid funded Emergency Medical Team who are on the ground there. He’s been speaking to me this morning from the capital Apia about the situation.
Dr Stephen Owens: Samoa is in the midst of a huge measles outbreak. There have been over 4200 cases notified so far. Almost all of them are children. The outbreak started several weeks, if not months, ago and the Samoan health authorities were dealing with it singlehandedly. Huge numbers of children were admitted to hospitals and there was a fear that they would be overwhelmed. Last week, we managed to provide another team just to help that capacity.
And tell us about the work you’ve been doing.
Dr Stephen Owens: We started work on Monday morning. We’ve been working across all of the areas in a hospital here in Apia. It’s early days. We’ve only been here three or four days now. Just trying to treat as many children as possible and trying to impact this horrendous death toll.
Yes. A horrendous death toll but also, among those children you are seeing who are managing to keep alive, some really serious illness. Many of them are gravely ill, aren’t they?
Dr Stephen Owens: That’s correct. So we are only seeing those children who are admitted with complicated measles – a few hundred against the several thousands across the islands. I think 2% of the entire population has been infected. We’re seeing a lot of complicated bacterial pneumonias and, in some cases, with some multi-drug resistant organisms. We’re seeing inflammation of the lungs, secondary to the virus, and inflammation of the brain. So it’s a fairly high acuity situation and very challenging to work in.
To listen to Stephen speaking to BBC Radio 4, go to 2:34:50 on this link: Measles outbreak; The Today Programme; broadcast