Reflecting on the Samoa response

“Experiencing the deaths of children from this preventable disease was really heartbreaking, but seeing the children I’d been caring for who had been so unwell, improve and be discharged home with their families was amazing.” Susanna Keiderling – Paediatric Nurse

“It was a privilege to work together with the Samoan staff during this time and learn from each other. Most of these nurses had been working for weeks since the outbreak started without a day off, yet still had a smile on their faces. The way that the Samoan people welcomed us in was truly touching, and it was a Christmas I’ll never forget.” Susanna Keiderling, a paediatric nurse, describes her experience of working in Samoa.

On 29th December, the Government of Samoa lifted a state of emergency that had run for the previous six weeks, as a measles outbreak that claimed 81 lives slowed. 5,667 cases were reported during the outbreak (Source: Gov of Samoa, 28 Dec). The UK Emergency Medical Team responded with two teams, who provided care to those patients suffering complications of the illness. The majority of patients cared for by the team were young children and babies, like Fiapito Victor (pictured) who is 5 months old and was able to go back home with her Mum Rosa Tauese on 18th December.

Both UK EMT teams have now returned home after working alongside Australian Medical Assistance Team (AUSMAT) colleagues who were already on the ground in the country’s capital, Apia. Both teams mainly worked in the two overflow tents, the Emu tent and Koala tent, set up by AUSMAT in the hospital grounds to cope with the unprecedented numbers of measles cases that had overwhelmed this small island.

The second team assisted in the transition back into the main hospital wards in the second and final week of the response as cases started to ease and more patients were discharged and the tented wards were able to close. The Emu tent, which held a 20 bed ward, was situated in what would usually be the car park at the front of the hospital, clearly visible from the road. Its closure and deconstruction was symbolic of things slowly returning to normal and the outbreak steadily coming under control.

For team two Christmas Day was business as usual with day and night shifts fully covered on the wards of the hospital. The team did manage to take some time to celebrate however; some members attended a Samoan carol concert on Christmas Eve and the whole team came together in two sittings with their AUSMAT colleagues for a traditional Samoan Christmas dinner complete with crackers, party games and an inter-team Secret Santa.

We’d like to thank everyone who supported the team – partners, colleagues, donors, friends and family  to save lives and provide care to alleviate the suffering of the children and families affected. We are grateful for the care, compassion, skill and professionalism our teams showed, and the huge difference they made to the lives of the children and their parents. It was an incredibly tough response and we are very proud of what the team achieved.

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