Samoa measles crisis: 'This epidemic has not yet peaked' - director-general

Samoa's director-general of health says the measles epidemic has not yet peaked despite widespread illness and a rising death toll.

In the past 24 hours, 249 new cases have been reported. The death toll is sitting at 33, a considerable increase since the 25 deaths recorded on Monday. 

"This epidemic has not yet peaked," director-general Take Naseri told Newshub's Pacific correspondent Michael Morrah.

Morrah says Thursday will likely bring new cases and another increase in the death toll.

"Probably about one percent of the population has got measles. There are 2686 confirmed cases - that's huge," Morrah told The AM Show on Thursday.

Despite vaccination being compulsory for all people aged 19 or younger, the majority of six-month-olds to four-year-olds are not immunised - despite being the most at-risk group.

Coverage of this demographic has yet to reach 40 percent. 

Morrah says many parents are still choosing to ignore the call for immunisation due to a lack of faith in Samoa's public health system.

Last year, two nurses incorrectly administered the MMR vaccine by preparing it with a suspected muscle relaxant instead of a water mixture, resulting in the death of two young children.

"This lead to a huge dent in public confidence in the health system and the whole immunisation programme was put on hold... I suspect many are still very nervous of the vaccine," Morrah says.

Hospitals and ICUs are overloaded across Samoa, with workers desperately renovating new rooms to create bed space for the influx of patients. 

New Zealand has sent around 45 doctors and nurses as well as a healthcare logistics team who are working in rotation. 

Morrah says hospitals are at 200 to 300 percent capacity, the huge influx of patients putting significant strain on Samoa's resources and medical equipment.

"Doctors and nurses are working around the clock in hospitals and vaccination clinics... imagine the impact on ventilators and medical equipment - a lot of the gear is failing," he says.

Authorities are continuing to struggle to address the outbreak.