HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Lt. Gov. Josh Green and dozens of health care providers arrived in Samoa on Wednesday to help combat a measles outbreak that has already killed 60 people.
Green, who’s an emergency medical room doctor, said 55 Hawaii nurses and 10 doctors made the trip to Samoa along with a support staff to deliver much-needed immunizations and health care.
And as soon as they landed, they hit the ground running.
“We landed and we immediately engaged with the team of World Health Organization officers and the teams on the ground here,” Green said, in a telephone interview.
“We fanned out with our delegation, which is about 75-80 people. Our team is in the field giving immunizations.”
Green said he’s already come across a number of sick children.
“People are warm and hugging us and greeting us with a lot of Samoan aloha,” he said.
But, he added, “It’s a little bit worse than I expected. You hear a lot of tragic stories but now when you go into homes and you see children in the moment with measles and with a lot of siblings a lot of young children around you worry.”
The purpose of the trip is to vaccinate tens of thousands of people against the virus in a span of just 48 hours. It’s a multi-million-dollar effort paid for entirely by donations.
“This will obviously save tens of thousands of people from getting the measles and it will save hundreds of fatalities from occurring,” Green said, in a news conference on Tuesday.
“This is a demonstration of people pulling together."
Green said the World Health Organization and the Samoan government want Hawaii’s team to focus on immunizing patients. The team will take 50,000 doses of the vaccine to Samoa.
“Two to seven people are passing away every day,” said Dr. Nadine Tenn Salle, Chief of Pediatrics at Queens Medical Center. “They’re in need of supplies, they’re in need of basic equipment. They’re having to choose which child will be on a ventilator, which children will get vaccinations, which will get the support that’s needed.”
A donated Hawaiian Airlines flight flew the team into Samoa early Wednesday morning and Fiji Airways has volunteered to fly them back late Friday evening.
“This is kind of the whole reason I got into nursing," said Amy Storbakken, a registered nurse.
Samoa declared a national emergency last month and mandated that all 200,000 people living on the South Pacific island nation get vaccinated. The government has closed all schools and banned children from public gatherings.
In addition to those who have died, the government said more than 1,100 people have been admitted to hospitals since the outbreak began and about 180 people remain hospitalized.
Among those hospitalized are at least 19 children who are in critical condition.
The pastor of Ole Ierusalema Fou, a Samoan church in Kalihi, says he and his congregation are constantly praying for their loved ones back home.
“Hearing that the lieutenant governor is going straight from here to Samoa is a plus for us," said Tafale Fuiava.
Amid the outbreak, the state Health Department is urging travelers to ensure they have been vaccinated against measles. So far this year, there have been four reported cases of travel-related measles in Hawaii.
“Measles is still common in many parts of the world, and current outbreaks in areas around the Pacific and on the mainland are a concern because Hawaii is a cornerstone for travel and many of our residents are frequent travelers,” said Health Director Bruce Anderson, in a news release.
“Infectious diseases are just a plane ride away, and vaccination is the best defense against these life-threatening diseases.”
For former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, the mission is personal.
“I am very effected by this. I have family in Samoa. And obviously I have been stricken with this and certainly this will go a long way towards bringing hope and putting us in a better path to recovery," said Hannemann. "This will not be forgotten.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.