South Pacific Commission Denies It Reported Samoa’s Zika Case

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Health Director unhappy report leads to being listed as dangerous for visitors

By Lance Polu

APIA, Samoa (Talamua, Jan. 29, 2016) – The South Pacific Commission has denied reporting a case on zika in Samoa in mid-January this year.

The Pacific Community’s Senior Epidemiologist, Dr. Salanieta Saketa wrote to the Director of Health Leausa Dr. Take Naseri yesterday explaining that the information about the case in Samoa did not come from SPC.

The reported zika case has placed Samoa as a dangerous place for visitors in a travel advisory put out by New Zealand and the United States, which has made Dr. Naseri unhappy as "it was made without consultation."

In an email to Dr. Naseri yesterday, Dr. Salanieta Saketa said: " I write to clarify on the question raised by the ABC reporter during your interview yesterday quoted as saying: "There are reports from the SPC’s Public Health Surveillance Network that there was a case of zika virus detected in Samoa as recent as this year in mid-January. That’s obviously something that you weren’t aware of?"

He went further: "We wish to clarify that we (SPC) never reported that there was a case of zika virus detected in Samoa in mid-January. We don’t know exactly where this information is coming from but we believe that this may be a misinterpretation of the weekly map of epidemic and emerging disease alerts that we produce each week.

"As you know, we maintain a map of epidemic and emerging disease alerts in the Pacific. We provide this service to the region’s public health professionals within the framework of the Pacific Public Health Surveillance Network (PPHSN) for regional health security purposes. Zika is one of the diseases under surveillance, alongside dengue, chikungunya and others.

"We included an alert for Zika in Samoa when your office sent a report on PacNet on 17 November regarding 2 confirmed cases of Zika in October. Following this information, we have emailed your office and on several occasions to get an update on the Zika situation but without any success.

"We also send the map through PacNet each week and we kindly ask PacNet members, meaning colleagues from Pacific countries to contact us for corrections, additions or comments and we’d never received any messages from your team.

"As a general rule of thumb the alerts are removed once we receive information from countries that there have been no confirmed cases for at least 2 consecutive incubation periods or when the cases no longer exceed the threshold. Unfortunately we did not have any hard evidence on this until we received your report "Situational Report Zika Virus" on January 25, 2016.

"We anticipate your understanding and we would be happy to discuss how we should proceed in future to avoid any similar situation," said Dr. Salanieta Saketa.

It is not yet known if Samoa will be taken off the advisory which has had an impact on travellers to Samoa because of the zika scare.

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