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    Australians protest as bushfire haze sparks health fears

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    Samoa shuts down in unprecedented battle against measles crisis

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Drop that donut! Mexico pays portly cops to slim down


2019-12-13
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It'sIt's aa sunnysunny morningmorning inin Mexico City,City, andand policepolice officersofficers dripdrip withwith sweatsweat asas theythey dodo push-upspush-ups andand squats,squats, partpart ofof aa programprogram forfor overweightoverweight copscops inin oneone ofof thethe world'sworld's mostmost obeseobese countries.countries.

TheThe twotwo dozendozen officersofficers grimacinggrimacing throughthrough theirtheir workoutworkout onon thethe pavementpavement ofof thethe stationstation househouse yardyard -- mostmost withwith roundround belliesbellies bulgingbulging beneathbeneath theirtheir drencheddrenched T-shirtsT-shirts -- areare justjust aa handfulhandful ofof thethe moremore thanthan 1,000 acrossacross thethe capitalcapital whowho havehave enrolledenrolled inin thethe program,program, "Healthy"Healthy Police."Police."

TheyThey getget aa bonusbonus ofof 1,000 pesospesos (about(about $50) aa monthmonth toto participateparticipate -- thoughthough judgingjudging byby thethe lookslooks onon theirtheir facesfaces asas theirtheir instructorinstructor shoutsshouts encouragementencouragement toto finishfinish oneone moremore set,set, somesome ofof themthem seemseem toto doubtdoubt whetherwhether it'sit's worthworth it.it.

ButBut thosethose whowho stickstick withwith thethe program,program, whichwhich waswas launchedlaunched threethree monthsmonths ago,ago, saysay itit cancan bebe life-changing.

"This"This waswas allall completely newnew toto me...me... TheThe firstfirst monthmonth waswas tough,tough, bothboth mentally andand physically," saidsaid one,one, Mauricio Barrera.

"But"But thethe programprogram hashas helpedhelped meme understandunderstand thatthat obesity isis anan illness,"illness," thethe 26-year-old toldtold AFP.

Barrera, whowho nownow lookslooks fitfit andand trim,trim, crackedcracked aa gringrin whenwhen hehe revealedrevealed howhow muchmuch weightweight hehe hashas lostlost sincesince hehe started: 16 kiloskilos (35 pounds).pounds).

"This"This programprogram isis aa wayway toto fightfight thethe obesity problemproblem wewe havehave inin Mexico, thethe sedentarysedentary lifestyle,"lifestyle," saidsaid Javier Ramirez, thethe buffbuff fitness instructorinstructor guidingguiding thethe beatbeat copscops throughthrough theirtheir routine.routine.

"We"We wantwant themthem toto bebe inin optimaloptimal conditioncondition soso theythey cancan dodo theirtheir jobsjobs effectively."effectively."

- Obesity epidemicepidemic -

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Three-quartersThree-quarters ofof adultsadults inin Mexico areare overweightoverweight oror obese,obese, accordingaccording toto nationalnational statistics.statistics.

ItsIts obesity raterate -- nearlynearly one-third ofof thethe adultadult populationpopulation -- isis secondsecond onlyonly toto thethe UnitedUnited StatesStates inin thethe OrganisationOrganisation forfor EconomicEconomic Co-operation andand DevelopmentDevelopment (OECD), aa 36-member groupgroup ofof developeddeveloped countries.countries.

Mexico's obesity epidemicepidemic isis drivingdriving highhigh ratesrates ofof diabetesdiabetes andand heartheart disease,disease, accordingaccording toto publicpublic healthhealth experts.experts.

OfficialsOfficials havehave startedstarted lookinglooking forfor waysways toto combatcombat thethe problem.problem.

InIn 2014, thethe countrycountry leveledleveled aa taxtax onon sodasoda andand otherother sugarysugary beverages.beverages. OneOne studystudy estimatesestimates itit willwill savesave 18,900 liveslives andand moremore thanthan $983 millionmillion overover 10 years.years.

ThisThis year,year, CongressCongress alsoalso passedpassed aa lawlaw requiringrequiring manufacturersmanufacturers toto putput warningwarning labelslabels onon junkjunk foodsfoods highhigh inin sugar,sugar, sodiumsodium oror saturatedsaturated fat.fat.

- 'Body'Body feelsfeels thethe difference'difference' -

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Mexico City'sCity's 83,000-member policepolice forceforce isis notnot immuneimmune toto thethe problem.problem.

"My"My healthhealth waswas poor,poor, andand II waswas gettinggetting tiredtired atat work,"work," saidsaid officerofficer Graciela Benitez, 36, takingtaking aa breakbreak fromfrom herher crunches.crunches.

SheShe hashas lostlost aroundaround 10 kiloskilos sincesince sheshe startedstarted thethe program,program, whichwhich alsoalso includesincludes nutritionnutrition counseling sessionssessions toto helphelp officersofficers eateat aa moremore healthful,healthful, balancedbalanced diet.diet.

"I"I usedused toto feelfeel sleepysleepy afterafter lunch.lunch. II waswas tiredtired whenwhen II gotgot toto work,"work," saidsaid Benitez.

"Now,"Now, II don't getget tired.tired. MyMy bodybody feelsfeels thethe difference."difference."

TheThe authoritiesauthorities areare hopinghoping sheshe willwill serveserve asas anan exampleexample forfor moremore obeseobese police.police.

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Australians protest as bushfire haze sparks health fears


2019-12-11
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UpUp toto 20,000 protestersprotesters ralliedrallied inin Sydney onon WednesdayWednesday demandingdemanding urgenturgent climateclimate actionaction fromfrom Australia's government,government, asas bushfire smokesmoke chokingchoking thethe citycity causedcaused healthhealth problemsproblems toto spike.spike.

Sydney hashas enduredendured weeksweeks bathedbathed inin toxictoxic smokesmoke asas hundredshundreds ofof blazesblazes havehave ragedraged acrossacross thethe countryside,countryside, withwith hospitalshospitals recordingrecording aa 25 percentpercent increaseincrease inin thethe numbernumber ofof peoplepeople visitingvisiting emergencyemergency departmentsdepartments lastlast week.week.

OnOn TuesdayTuesday smokesmoke alarmsalarms rangrang outout acrossacross Australia's biggestbiggest city,city, withwith thickthick hazehaze triggeringtriggering smokesmoke alarmsalarms andand forcingforcing buildingsbuildings toto bebe evacuated,evacuated, schoolschool childrenchildren toto bebe keptkept indoors,indoors, andand ferriesferries toto bebe cancelled.cancelled.

TheThe devastatingdevastating firesfires havehave focusedfocused attentionattention onon climateclimate change,change, withwith scientistsscientists sayingsaying thethe blazesblazes havehave comecome earlierearlier andand withwith moremore intensity thanthan usualusual duedue toto globalglobal warmingwarming andand aa prolongedprolonged drought.drought.

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PolicePolice estimatedestimated thethe crowdcrowd sizesize atat 15,000, organisersorganisers putput thethe figurefigure atat 20,000.

ManyMany ofof thethe protestorsprotestors voicedvoiced angeranger atat thethe government'sgovernment's silencesilence inin thethe faceface ofof thethe crisis.crisis.

"The"The countrycountry isis onon fire"fire" saidsaid 26-year-old Samuel Wilkie attendingattending hishis firstfirst climateclimate protest.protest. HeHe describeddescribed politicians'politicians' responseresponse asas "pathetic"."pathetic".

"Our"Our governmentgovernment isis notnot doingdoing anythinganything aboutabout it,"it," saidsaid 29-year-old landscapelandscape gardenergardener Zara Zoe. "No"No oneone isis listening,listening, nono oneone isis doingdoing anything."anything."

PrimePrime MinisterMinister Scott Morrison -- aa staunchstaunch backerbacker ofof Australia's vastvast coalcoal industryindustry -- hashas saidsaid littlelittle aboutabout thethe smokesmoke sincesince thethe crisiscrisis began,began, preferringpreferring toto focusfocus onon fire-hit ruralrural communities.communities.

OrganiserOrganiser Chloe Rafferty saidsaid thatthat hadhad createdcreated angeranger atat thethe conservativeconservative government'sgovernment's inaction.inaction.

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"I"I thinkthink thethe widerwider publicpublic cancan seesee thatthat wewe areare notnot expectingexpecting thethe climateclimate crisiscrisis inin thethe futurefuture butbut wewe areare facingfacing thethe climateclimate crisiscrisis now,"now," sheshe toldtold AFP.

"People"People areare experiencingexperiencing itit inin theirtheir day-to-dayday-to-day lives."lives."

AsAs wellwell asas aa riserise inin peoplepeople visitingvisiting hospitalshospitals withwith smoke-related healthhealth symptoms,symptoms, thethe numbernumber ofof emergencyemergency callscalls forfor ambulancesambulances spikedspiked 30 percentpercent lastlast week.week.

"For"For mostmost people,people, smokesmoke causescauses mildmild symptomssymptoms likelike soresore eyes,eyes, nosenose andand throat,"throat," toptop healthhealth departmentdepartment officialofficial Richard Broome said.said.

"However,"However, peoplepeople withwith conditionsconditions likelike asthma,asthma, emphysemaemphysema andand anginaangina areare atat greatergreater riskrisk becausebecause thethe smokesmoke cancan triggertrigger theirtheir symptoms."symptoms."

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\Smoke\Smoke fromfrom bushfires isis oneone ofof thethe biggestbiggest contributorscontributors toto airair pollutionpollution inin Australia, releasingreleasing finefine particlesparticles thatthat cancan lodgelodge deepdeep withinwithin people'speople's lungslungs andand causecause "severe""severe" healthhealth impactsimpacts overover time,time, accordingaccording toto scientistscientist Mick Meyer fromfrom government-funded scientificscientific researchresearch agencyagency CSIRO.

"The"The impactimpact ofof smokesmoke onon peoplepeople remoteremote fromfrom thethe firesfires may,may, onon occasion,occasion, substantiallysubstantially exceedexceed thethe directdirect injuryinjury toto peoplepeople withinwithin thethe firefire zone,"zone," hehe wrotewrote inin TheThe Conversation.Conversation.

"But"But wewe currently lacklack thethe operationaloperational toolstools toto understandunderstand thethe extentextent ofof thesethese impactsimpacts oror toto managemanage them."them."

SixSix peoplepeople havehave beenbeen killedkilled andand moremore thanthan 700 houseshouses destroyeddestroyed inin bushfires thisthis firefire season.season.

ThoughThough thethe humanhuman tolltoll hashas beenbeen farfar lowerlower thanthan thethe deadliestdeadliest firefire seasonseason inin 2009 -- whenwhen almostalmost 200 peoplepeople dieddied -- thethe scalescale ofof thisthis year'syear's devastationdevastation hashas beenbeen widely describeddescribed asas unprecedented.unprecedented.

ThreeThree millionmillion hectareshectares (7.4 millionmillion acres)acres) ofof landland hashas beenbeen burntburnt -- thethe sizesize ofof somesome smallsmall countriescountries -- andand vastvast swathesswathes ofof koalakoala habitathabitat scorched.scorched.

OfficialOfficial datadata showsshows 2019 isis onon tracktrack toto bebe oneone ofof thethe hottesthottest andand driestdriest yearsyears onon recordrecord inin Australia.

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Anti-vaxxer arrested as Samoa battles measles epidemic


2019-12-06
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Samoan authoritiesauthorities warnedwarned FridayFriday thatthat anti-vaccine propagandapropaganda wouldwould notnot bebe tolerated,tolerated, afterafter aa socialsocial mediamedia campaignercampaigner waswas arrestedarrested forfor opposingopposing aa massmass immunisation drivedrive aimedaimed atat containingcontaining thethe PacificPacific nation'snation's deadlydeadly measlesmeasles epidemic.epidemic.

AtAt leastleast 63 people,people, mostlymostly children,children, havehave dieddied sincesince thethe outbreakoutbreak beganbegan inin mid-October, withwith thethe crisiscrisis blamedblamed onon so-calledso-called "anti-vaxxers" convincingconvincing parentsparents thatthat immunisations werewere dangerous.dangerous.

Samoa waswas onon FridayFriday enduringenduring itsits secondsecond dayday ofof aa lockdown asas governmentgovernment andand aidaid workersworkers spreadspread outout acrossacross thethe nationnation ofof 200,000 peoplepeople toto vaccinatevaccinate asas manymany asas possible.possible.

ButBut CommunicationsCommunications MinisterMinister Afamasaga Rico Tupai saidsaid anti-vaxxers spreadingspreading conspiracyconspiracy theoriestheories werewere hinderinghindering thethe unprecedentedunprecedented publicpublic healthhealth mobilisation.

"The"The anti-vaxxers unfortunatelyunfortunately havehave beenbeen slowingslowing usus down,"down," hehe toldtold TVNZ.

"We've hadhad childrenchildren whowho havehave passedpassed awayaway afterafter comingcoming toto thethe hospitalhospital asas aa lastlast resortresort andand thenthen wewe findfind outout thethe anti-vaccine messagemessage hashas gotgot toto theirtheir familiesfamilies andand that'sthat's whywhy they've keptkept thesethese kidskids atat home."home."

HeHe warnedwarned anti-vaxxers: "Don't getget inin thethe way,way, don't contributecontribute toto thethe deaths".deaths".

TheThe government-backed itsits toughtough rhetoricrhetoric byby arrestingarresting vocalvocal anti-vaccination campaignercampaigner Edwin Tamasese latelate ThursdayThursday andand chargingcharging himhim withwith incitementincitement againstagainst aa governmentgovernment order.order.

OfficialsOfficials saidsaid theythey actedacted afterafter Tamasese hadhad ignoredignored previousprevious warningswarnings toto stopstop hishis campaign.campaign.

Tamasese, whowho hashas nono medicalmedical training,training, hashas railedrailed againstagainst vaccinesvaccines onon hishis Facebook pagepage andand advocatesadvocates usingusing quackquack remediesremedies suchsuch asas papayapapaya leafleaf extractextract toto treattreat measles.measles.

InIn aa finalfinal postpost onon ThursdayThursday beforebefore hishis arrestarrest Tamasese describeddescribed thethe vaccination drivedrive asas "the"the greatestgreatest crimecrime againstagainst ourour people",people", andand saidsaid vitaminvitamin CC wouldwould savesave children.children.

TheThe postpost hadhad moremore thanthan 7,000 shares,shares, commentscomments oror interactions.interactions.

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TheThe governmentgovernment hashas specialspecial powerspowers afterafter declaringdeclaring aa statestate ofof emergencyemergency toto dealdeal withwith thethe measlesmeasles crisiscrisis andand thethe Samoa ObserverObserver reportedreported thatthat Tamasese couldcould faceface twotwo yearsyears inin jail.jail.

However,However, officialsofficials inin thethe PacificPacific cancan dodo nothingnothing aboutabout foreign-based anti-vaxxers, whowho thethe ObserverObserver reportedreported werewere swampingswamping governmentgovernment websiteswebsites withwith materialmaterial thatthat Tupai describeddescribed asas "nonsense"."nonsense".

ExamplesExamples includeinclude Texas-based conspiracyconspiracy theoristtheorist Ellen Dann, whowho claimsclaims thethe vaccines,vaccines, notnot measles,measles, havehave causedcaused Samoa's mountingmounting deathdeath tolltoll asas partpart ofof aa schemescheme byby pharmaceuticalpharmaceutical companiescompanies toto sellsell moremore medicines.medicines.

- 'Overwhelmed''Overwhelmed' healthhealth systemsystem -

PrimePrime MinisterMinister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi saidsaid Thursday'sThursday's firstfirst dayday ofof thethe shutdownshutdown waswas aa success,success, withwith 17,500 people,people, oror almostalmost 10 percentpercent ofof thethe population,population, receivingreceiving theirtheir jabs.jabs.

AsAs partpart ofof thethe lockdown, allall businessesbusinesses andand non-essentialnon-essential governmentgovernment servicesservices werewere closedclosed andand residentsresidents orderedordered toto obeyobey aa dawn-to-dusk curfew.curfew.

FamiliesFamilies werewere alsoalso orderedordered toto displaydisplay aa redred flagflag outsideoutside theirtheir homehome toto alertalert mobilemobile immunisation teamsteams ifif peoplepeople insideinside werewere unvaccinated.

YetYet thethe infectioninfection continuedcontinued toto spread,spread, withwith thethe healthhealth ministryministry reportingreporting onon FridayFriday morningmorning 140 newnew casescases overover thethe previousprevious 24 hours.hours.

OneOne moremore personperson died,died, bringingbringing thethe confirmedconfirmed deathdeath tolltoll toto 63, withwith 55 ofof thethe victimsvictims agedaged fourfour oror under.under.

TwentyTwenty childrenchildren werewere critically illill inin hospital,hospital, accordingaccording toto thethe ministry.ministry.

InfantsInfants areare thethe mostmost vulnerablevulnerable toto measles,measles, whichwhich typicallytypically causescauses aa rashrash andand feverfever butbut cancan alsoalso leadlead toto brainbrain damagedamage andand death.death.

Samoa's measlesmeasles immunisation raterate droppeddropped toto aboutabout 30 percentpercent afterafter anan incidentincident lastlast yearyear involvinginvolving thethe deathdeath ofof twotwo babiesbabies thatthat anti-vaxxers incorrectly blamedblamed onon thethe medication.medication.

TheThe drasticdrastic actionaction currently underwayunderway isis aimedaimed atat liftinglifting thethe raterate toto thethe globalglobal standardstandard ofof 90 percent,percent, whichwhich shouldshould helphelp curbcurb thethe currentcurrent outbreakoutbreak andand stopstop futurefuture epidemics.epidemics.

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UNICEF's regionalregional chiefchief onon ThursdayThursday toldtold AFP thatthat socialsocial mediamedia giantsgiants suchsuch asas Facebook andand TwitterTwitter werewere "incredibly irresponsible"irresponsible" forfor allowingallowing thethe misinformationmisinformation toto spreadspread onon theirtheir platforms.platforms.

Samoa hashas receivedreceived aidaid toto combatcombat thethe crisiscrisis fromfrom Australia, NewNew Zealand, France, Britain, China,China, Norway, Japan, thethe UnitedUnited StatesStates andand thethe UN.UN.

ButBut Malielegaoi appealedappealed forfor moremore aidaid fromfrom thethe internationalinternational community.community.

"Health"Health facilitiesfacilities havehave beenbeen overwhelmedoverwhelmed inin copingcoping withwith thethe influxinflux ofof patients,"patients," hehe said.said.

"The"The impactsimpacts ofof thisthis emergencyemergency willwill bebe farfar reachingreaching onon Samoa andand ourour peoplepeople particularlyparticularly ourour youngyoung generations."generations."

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UN says online anti-vaxxers fuelling Samoa measles deaths


2019-12-05
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SocialSocial mediamedia giantsgiants mustmust crackcrack downdown onon anti-vaccination postsposts thatthat areare fuellingfuelling Samoa's deadlydeadly measlesmeasles epidemicepidemic fromfrom afar,afar, UNICEF's PacificPacific islandsislands chiefchief saidsaid Thursday.Thursday.

Sheldon Yett, thethe regionalregional representativerepresentative forfor thethe UNUN children'schildren's agency,agency, saidsaid "incredibly irresponsible"irresponsible" onlineonline materialmaterial onon platformsplatforms suchsuch asas Twitter,Twitter, Facebook andand Instagram hadhad exacerbatedexacerbated thethe Samoa measlesmeasles outbreakoutbreak -- whichwhich hashas claimedclaimed 62 liveslives sincesince mid-October -- byby discouragingdiscouraging immunisation.

"It's"It's quitequite clearclear thatthat theythey havehave aa corporatecorporate responsibilityresponsibility toto stepstep upup toto thethe plateplate andand makemake suresure thatthat populations,populations, particularlyparticularly vulnerablevulnerable populations,populations, getget accurateaccurate informationinformation that'sthat's goinggoing toto keepkeep childrenchildren alive,"alive," Yett toldtold AFP.

Immunisation ratesrates inin Samoa droppeddropped toto justjust overover 30 percentpercent beforebefore thethe outbreak,outbreak, wellwell belowbelow acceptedaccepted bestbest practicepractice ofof aroundaround 90 percent,percent, makingmaking thethe islandisland nationnation extremelyextremely vulnerablevulnerable toto infection.infection.

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TheThe WorldWorld HealthHealth OrganisationOrganisation blamedblamed anan anti-vaccine messagingmessaging campaign,campaign, whichwhich Yett saidsaid waswas carriedcarried outout largelylargely onlineonline byby overseas-based activists.activists.

"It's"It's quitequite obviousobvious thatthat therethere areare veryvery loudloud peoplepeople onon socialsocial mediamedia makingmaking veryvery falsefalse claimsclaims aboutabout vaccines,"vaccines," hehe said.said.

"Unfortunately"Unfortunately it'sit's foundfound aa readyready audienceaudience inin Samoa, wherewhere somesome peoplepeople areare suspicioussuspicious aboutabout thethe qualityquality ofof healthcare andand maymay havehave issuesissues withwith locallocal (vaccine)(vaccine) providers."providers."

HeHe saidsaid activistsactivists postingposting anti-vaccine materialmaterial fromfrom wealthywealthy developeddeveloped countriescountries suchsuch asas thethe UnitedUnited StatesStates andand Australia neededneeded toto realiserealise thethe impactimpact ofof theirtheir actionsactions inin developingdeveloping nations.nations.

"It's"It's devastating,devastating, itit cancan bebe aa deathdeath sentencesentence forfor aa childchild herehere wherewhere there'sthere's lowlow immunisation andand possiblypossibly otherother healthhealth issuesissues goinggoing onon inin thethe background,"background," hehe saidsaid fromfrom thethe capitalcapital Apia.

- 'No'No easyeasy fix'fix' -

Yett saidsaid suspicionsuspicion ofof vaccinesvaccines inin Samoa stemmedstemmed fromfrom aa casecase lastlast yearyear whenwhen twotwo babiesbabies dieddied afterafter receivingreceiving measlesmeasles shots,shots, leadingleading toto anan eight-month suspensionsuspension ofof thethe country'scountry's immunisation programme.programme.

SubsequentSubsequent investigationsinvestigations foundfound therethere waswas nono problemproblem withwith thethe vaccinevaccine itself,itself, butbut thethe nursesnurses administeringadministering itit accidentally mixedmixed itit withwith anaesthetic,anaesthetic, insteadinstead ofof water.water.

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However,However, trusttrust inin thethe immunisation programmeprogramme waswas denteddented andand anti-vaxxers steppedstepped upup effortsefforts toto pushpush theirtheir agendaagenda online,online, creatingcreating whatwhat Yett describeddescribed asas "a"a perfectperfect formula"formula" forfor anan uncontrollableuncontrollable epidemic.epidemic.

TheThe activistsactivists havehave alsoalso hinderedhindered effortsefforts toto controlcontrol thethe outbreak,outbreak, withwith oneone prominentprominent Australian-based blogger lastlast weekweek comparingcomparing compulsorycompulsory vaccinationsvaccinations toto NaziNazi Germany andand sayingsaying "fascism"fascism isis wellwell andand trulytruly alivealive inin Samoa".

OthersOthers havehave promotedpromoted quickquick remediesremedies suchsuch asas "kangen water",water", anan alkalinealkaline waterwater whichwhich supporterssupporters saysay cancan curecure measles,measles, despitedespite nono scientificscientific evidence.evidence.

Yett saidsaid healthhealth authorities'authorities' focusfocus atat thethe momentmoment waswas containingcontaining anan epidemicepidemic thatthat waswas stillstill raging,raging, resultingresulting inin freshfresh infectionsinfections andand childchild deathsdeaths everyevery day.day.

ButBut hehe saidsaid onceonce itit waswas overover therethere hadhad toto bebe discussiondiscussion withwith platformsplatforms suchsuch asas Facebook, TwitterTwitter andand Instagram aboutabout theirtheir approachapproach toto anti-vaccine material.material.

HeHe saidsaid informedinformed debatedebate waswas importantimportant butbut itit waswas wrongwrong toto allowallow onlineonline activistsactivists toto questionquestion thethe effectiveness ofof vaccines,vaccines, whichwhich thethe WHOWHO estimatesestimates havehave savedsaved thethe liveslives ofof 21 millionmillion childrenchildren overover thethe pastpast 20 years.years.

"It's"It's notnot easy,easy, nobodynobody wantswants toto bebe aa censor,"censor," hehe said.said.

"Companies"Companies havehave aa responsibilityresponsibility toto dodo it,it, butbut wewe alsoalso havehave toto bebe honesthonest andand saysay there'sthere's nono easyeasy fixfix wherewhere theythey cancan flickflick aa switch."switch."

HeHe concededconceded thethe clicksclicks generatedgenerated byby heatedheated onlineonline debatedebate aboutabout vaccinesvaccines couldcould preventprevent thethe platformsplatforms fromfrom wantingwanting toto taketake swiftswift actionaction onon thethe issue.issue.

"We"We shouldn't bebe naive,naive, therethere areare manymany countercounter incentivesincentives herehere forfor socialsocial mediamedia giantsgiants asas well,"well," hehe said.said.

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Samoa shuts down in unprecedented battle against measles crisis


2019-12-05
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Samoa enteredentered aa two-day lockdown ThursdayThursday toto carrycarry outout anan unprecedentedunprecedented massmass vaccination drivedrive aimedaimed atat containingcontaining aa devastatingdevastating measlesmeasles epidemicepidemic thatthat hashas killedkilled dozensdozens ofof childrenchildren inin thethe PacificPacific islandisland nation.nation.

AsAs thethe deathdeath tolltoll climbedclimbed toto 62, officialsofficials orderedordered allall businessesbusinesses andand non-essentialnon-essential governmentgovernment servicesservices toto close,close, shutshut downdown inter-island ferriesferries andand toldtold peoplepeople toto keepkeep theirtheir carscars offoff thethe roads.roads.

ResidentsResidents werewere advisedadvised toto obeyobey aa dawn-to-dusk curfew,curfew, stayingstaying inin theirtheir homeshomes andand displayingdisplaying aa redred flagflag ifif anyany occupantsoccupants werewere notnot yetyet immunised.

HundredsHundreds ofof vaccination teams,teams, includingincluding publicpublic servantsservants drafteddrafted inin forfor thethe operation,operation, fannedfanned outout acrossacross thethe nationnation ofof 200,000 inin thethe earlyearly hourshours ofof thethe morning.morning.

TheyThey planplan toto gogo door-to-doordoor-to-door inin villagesvillages andand townstowns toto administeradminister mandatorymandatory vaccinationsvaccinations inin red-flagged houses.houses.

TheThe marketsmarkets onon Apia's waterfront,waterfront, usuallyusually packedpacked withwith touriststourists buyingbuying handicrafts,handicrafts, werewere silentsilent asas stallsstalls stoodstood empty,empty, whilewhile therethere waswas hardlyhardly anyany traffictraffic inin thethe citycity centre.centre.

"It's"It's very,very, veryvery quietquiet outout here.here. II cancan justjust hearhear aa fewfew barkingbarking dogs.dogs. TheThe streetsstreets areare empty.empty. ThereThere areare nono cars,"cars," UNICEF's PacificPacific islandsislands chiefchief Sheldon Yett toldtold AFP.

"People"People areare stayingstaying atat homehome waitingwaiting forfor thethe vaccination campaign.campaign. TheThe teamsteams areare gettinggetting theirtheir suppliessupplies togethertogether andand gettinggetting readyready toto gogo out."out."

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TheThe operation,operation, carriedcarried outout underunder emergencyemergency powerspowers invokedinvoked asas thethe epidemicepidemic tooktook holdhold lastlast month,month, isis aa desperatedesperate bidbid toto halthalt measlesmeasles infectioninfection ratesrates thatthat havehave beenbeen inexorably risingrising sincesince mid-October, withwith mostmost ofof thethe victimsvictims youngyoung children.children.

"I've seenseen massmass mobilisation campaignscampaigns before,before, butbut notnot overover anan entireentire countrycountry likelike this,"this," Yett said.said.

"That's"That's whatwhat we'rewe're doingdoing rightright now.now. ThisThis entireentire countrycountry isis beingbeing vaccinated."vaccinated."

- 'Incredibly irresponsible'irresponsible' materialmaterial -

Immunisation ratesrates inin Samoa droppeddropped steeply toto justjust 30 percentpercent beforebefore thethe outbreak,outbreak, thethe WorldWorld HealthHealth OrganisationOrganisation said,said, blamingblaming anan anti-vaccine messagingmessaging campaign.campaign.

TwoTwo babiesbabies dieddied afterafter receivingreceiving measlesmeasles vaccination shotsshots lastlast year,year, whichwhich leadlead toto thethe temporarytemporary suspensionsuspension ofof thethe country'scountry's immunisation programmeprogramme andand denteddented parents'parents' trusttrust inin thethe vaccine.vaccine.

ItIt waswas laterlater foundfound thethe deathsdeaths werewere causedcaused whenwhen otherother medicinesmedicines werewere incorrectly administered.administered.

RatesRates ofof 90 percentpercent areare internationalinternational bestbest practice.practice. Immunisation ratesrates inin PacificPacific islandisland nationsnations Tonga andand Fiji areare atat aroundaround 90 percent,percent, andand theirtheir measlesmeasles outbreaksoutbreaks havehave beenbeen farfar milder.milder.

Yett saidsaid socialsocial mediamedia hadhad beenbeen usedused toto spreadspread anti-vaccination misinformationmisinformation inin Samoa andand thethe onlineonline giantsgiants runningrunning thethe platformsplatforms neededneeded toto clampclamp downdown onon suchsuch "incredibly irresponsible"irresponsible" material.material.

"It's"It's quitequite clearclear thatthat theythey havehave aa corporatecorporate responsibilityresponsibility toto stepstep upup toto thethe plateplate andand makemake suresure thatthat populations,populations, particularlyparticularly vulnerablevulnerable populations,populations, getget accurateaccurate informationinformation that'sthat's goinggoing toto keepkeep childrenchildren alive,"alive," hehe said.said.

Samoa's immunisation raterate hashas risenrisen toto 55 percentpercent overover thethe pastpast fortnightfortnight andand Yett saidsaid thisthis week'sweek's two-day drivedrive aimedaimed toto pushpush itit aboveabove 90 percent,percent, whichwhich shouldshould helphelp curbcurb thethe currentcurrent outbreakoutbreak andand stopstop futurefuture epidemics.epidemics.

- 'Vaccination thethe onlyonly cure'cure' -

EvenEven PrimePrime MinisterMinister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi's residenceresidence hadhad aa redred flagflag flutteringfluttering outsideoutside itit onon Thursday,Thursday, withwith thethe leaderleader sayingsaying hishis nephewnephew hadhad recentlyrecently arrivedarrived fromfrom Australia andand neededneeded aa measlesmeasles shot.shot.

Malielegaoi saidsaid hehe waswas angeredangered byby anecdotalanecdotal reportsreports somesome anti-vaccination parentsparents werewere encouragingencouraging theirtheir childrenchildren toto hidehide fromfrom thethe teamsteams toto avoidavoid thethe mandatorymandatory injection.injection.

"The"The onlyonly curecure forfor thisthis isis vaccination... havinghaving youryour childrenchildren vaccinatedvaccinated isis thethe onlyonly way,"way," hehe said.said.

Malielegaoi rejectedrejected accusationsaccusations thatthat hishis governmentgovernment hadhad contributedcontributed toto thethe crisiscrisis byby notnot actingacting moremore decisively toto addressaddress thethe long-termlong-term declinedecline inin immunisation rates.rates.

"I"I thinkthink you're talkingtalking toto thethe wrongwrong people,people, wewe diddid itit many,many, manymany times,"times," hehe toldtold reporters.reporters.

ChildrenChildren areare thethe mostmost vulnerablevulnerable toto measles,measles, whichwhich typicallytypically causescauses aa rashrash andand feverfever butbut cancan alsoalso leadlead toto brainbrain damagedamage andand death.death.

TheThe latestlatest figuresfigures showshow thatthat 54 ofof thethe 62 deaddead werewere agedaged fourfour oror lessless andand infantsinfants accountaccount forfor mostmost ofof thethe 4,217 casescases recordedrecorded sincesince thethe outbreakoutbreak beganbegan inin mid-October.

AA furtherfurther 19 childrenchildren areare critically illill inin hospital.hospital.

Samoa hashas receivedreceived aidaid toto combatcombat thethe crisiscrisis fromfrom Australia, NewNew Zealand, France, Britain, China,China, Norway, Japan, AmericanAmerican Samoa, thethe UnitedUnited StatesStates andand thethe UN.UN.

ButBut effortsefforts soso farfar havehave failedfailed toto stopstop infectioninfection spreading,spreading, promptingprompting thisthis week'sweek's drasticdrastic escalation inin thethe immunisation campaign.campaign.

Samoans cancan expectexpect nono immediateimmediate reliefrelief eveneven ifif thethe nationalnational shutdownshutdown succeedssucceeds inin boostingboosting vaccination ratesrates asas thethe injectioninjection typicallytypically takestakes 10-14 daysdays toto becomebecome effective.effective.

ThereThere havehave alsoalso beenbeen measlesmeasles epidemicsepidemics inin neighbouringneighbouring Fiji andand Tonga, butbut higherhigher immunisation ratesrates meanmean theythey havehave beenbeen moremore easilyeasily contained,contained, withwith nono fatalities.fatalities.