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Samoa faces possible typhoid epidemic in wake of cyclone

Published: 12:15PM Tuesday December 18, 2012 Source: ONE News

Samoa is facing a health crisis as it prepares for a possible typhoid epidemic following Cyclone Evan's devastating impact last weekend.

A lack of running water and the fact many villages are getting their supplies from unsanitary pools means medical staff are working around the clock to prevent a major outbreak of disease.

Health authorities in Samoa are already struggling with waves of cyclone-related injuries and illness.

"As of now, we are seeing a lot of injuries," public health official Dr Take Naseri told ONE News. "We are seeing a lot of children with diarrhoea."

The main fear now is typhoid, a bacterial disease that is easily transmitted when water becomes contaminated with sewage.

"We are really concerned about (typhoid) and doing all we can to prevent that," said Naseri.

Palanitina Tupuimatagi Toelupe, the CEO of Samoa's Ministry of Health, said the World Health Organisation is already helping to arrange medical supplies.

"We are already working with WHO to try and mobilise some typhoid vaccinations for us," said Toelupe.

The flash floods caused by Cyclone Evan have washed up a raft of debris that is adding to the unsanitary conditions.

Resident Keilani Keilani has told ONE News that the stench of decomposing animals is rife.

"There's quite a bad odour of dead animals - the pigs, the dogs, chickens - around here," she said.

Meanwhile Samoa's growing health problems are stretching the country's medical system to its limits.

"Already the staff are very tired both in the hospital and out in public health, but everyone is trying," Toelupe said.

The New Zealand Red Cross is sending five extra staff to Samoa to install water tanks, and the New Zealand Government has made $550,000 available for immediate relief.

Search for fishermen called off

Five people have been confirmed dead and 12 are missing following the cyclone.

The search for ten fishermen, missing after Cyclone Evan struck Samoa, has been suspended.

Three days of searching with an RNZAF Orion and a French Navy Gardian aircraft has failed to find any sign of the men.

Neville Blakemore from the Rescue Co-ordination Centre New Zealand said the search could be reactivated if new information came to hand.

"We are confident that the area has been thoroughly covered in difficult circumstances," he said. "This is obviously a tragic outcome for the families of the men involved and our thoughts are with them."

If the men are pronounced dead, it will take the death toll from Cyclone Evan in Samoa to 14. Another two people are also missing on land.

The men were on four separate boats. A submerged hull has been found but it is yet to be confirmed whether it belonged to one of the missing boats.