Samoa has closed all its schools, banned children from public gatherings and mandated that everybody get vaccinated after declaring a state of emergency due to a measles outbreak that has so far killed six people.

For the past three weeks, the Pacific island nation of 200,000 people has been in the grip of a measles epidemic that has been exacerbated by low immunisation rates.

Schools were closed from Monday after the government declared an emergency on Friday. The National University of Samoa also told students to stay home and said exams scheduled for this week had been indefinitely postponed.

Health authorities say most of those who have died are under the age of 2.


They say there have been a total of 716 reported measles cases, and that nearly 100 people remain hospitalised with 15 in intensive care.

Samoa's Director General of Health Leausa Take Naseri said in a news conference last week that he expects the epidemic will get worse. He said that only about two-thirds of Samoans had been vaccinated, leaving the others vulnerable to the virus.

But figures from the World Health Organisation and UNICEF indicate that measles immunization rates among Samoan infants have fallen steeply from over 70% in 2013 to under 30% last year.

Dr Helen Petousis-Harris, a vaccine expert at the University of Auckland, in New Zealand, said the Samoan government halted its immunisation programme for several months last year after two infants died from a medical mishap involving a vaccine.

She said it was disappointing that people in New Zealand who were carrying the virus had traveled to Samoa, possibly sparking the outbreak.

She said New Zealand knew it had immunity gaps.

"But we didn't deal with the problem," she said.

Meanwhile, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Samoa cancelled all their services and gatherings until a measles-related state of emergency passes.


Hospitals are also implementing new policies with only one family member or caregiver allowed to attend to a patient and, unless they are requiring medical attention, no child under the age of 18 can visit a medical facility.

Police have been instructed to keep the peace, support staff and families of the hospitals, and attend to assisting with the monitoring of visitors.

The declaration also includes a ban on children attending public gatherings.

The church, which has 160 wards in Samoa, said their move to close services followed the government's lead.

Other denominations are continuing their meetings.

- AP