The death toll rises to 53, mostly children

Red Cross volunteers in Samoa

Red Cross volunteers in Samoa

A fishing boat is seen in the early morning near Taumeasina Island Resort in Apia, Samoa on September 8, 2017. Most of those who have died have been babies and young infants, including 23 babies aged under 12 months and another 25 children aged between 1 and 4 years. Of the total deaths, 50 involved children under the age of 15.

In just over two weeks, the official death toll has jumped more than ten-fold to 53 on Monday, the Samoan government said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned in October of the devastating return of measles epidemics worldwide, as the number of reported cases increased by 300 percent in the first three months of this year.

The Ministry of Health has confirmed 3,728 measles cases since the outbreak started. Since yesterday, there have been 173 new cases of measles recorded and four people have died.

Dr Helen Petousis-Harris, a vaccinologist at the University of Auckland, said there were pockets of the community where immunisation rates had slipped, allowing the disease to take hold.

This ended in the temporary suspension of the country's immunization program and depressed parents' trust in the vaccine, even though it next turned out the deaths were caused by other medicines that were mistakenly administered.

A total of 32,743 vaccinations were completed before the Mass Vaccination Campaign.Since November 20, when the vaccination strategy was implemented the Ministry has vaccinated 58,150 people, of that 43,529 were vaccinated in Upolu and 14,621 in Savaii.

Neighbouring New Zealand and a number of other countries and organisations, including the United Nations agency Unicef, have delivered thousands of vaccines, medical supplies and have sent medical personnel to help with the outbreak.

Measles, a highly contagious virus that easily spreads through coughing and sneezing, have also been reported in other Pacific countries, including Tonga and Fiji.