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Miss Samoa beauty queen, Fono McFarland-Seumanu, began her reign around the same time an outbreak of measles crippled the country, leaving behind 83 deaths within its small population of 200,000. Samoa entered a strict lockdown in an attempt to start immunisation strategy.
As a specialist public health nurse, Ms McFarland-Seumanu – full name Fonoifafo – volunteered to deliver jabs to people.
She visited homes across the country to conduct the vaccinations, while emergency medical workers from all around the globe – including the UK – provided cover in the overwhelmed hospitals.
And after the state of emergency ended, Ms McFarland-Seumanu continued participating in efforts to vaccinate children who had not been vaccinated in a catch-up campaign, travelling twice a week to rural areas.
She is currently taking part in efforts to protect Samoans from the coronavirus by supporting staying at home campaigns and social distancing on her social media.
Samoa is one of few countries to have no confirmed Covid-19 cases.
It is currently in lockdown once again to tackle the pandemic, after implementing the strict restrictions for two days in December to conduct a mass-vaccination programme for measles.
Ms McFarland-Seumanu told Mail Online: “I think the whole world has learned from this measles epidemic here in Samoa from what we’ve gone through.
“That’s evident in the way that everyone has responded to the coronavirus.”
Some have argued the measles crisis prepared the country to implement some of the earliest and strictest travel bans to stop the virus entering the country.
In January a quarantine facility was set up at Faleolo hospital next to the nation’s only international airport.
By mid-February anyone travelling via China or Hong Kong was not let into Samoa unless they had quarantined for two weeks at their last port of call.
Some passengers were turned away as they reached the country. This list of countries was expanded as the outbreak gained more severity.
In March Samoa entered a state of emergency and banned gatherings of more than five people and later all international travel.
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Nicola Hawley assistant professor of epidemiology at Yale School of Public Health, said that the country’s almost “accidental preparedness” after the measles crisis came with a major sacrifice.
But she added: “Few nations have such recent experience with a crisis like this.
“As they continue to recover from the heartache of the measles outbreak and face this new uncertainty, Samoa should know that in some circles their health leaders have almost as many fans as their national rugby team.”
Ms McFarland-Seumanu had already been campaigning for children to get the MMR jab publicly in radio interviews and social media after a measles outbreak in New Zealand in 2019, where she helped out as a nurse.
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She said: “I was urging parents to get their children vaccinated because the numbers were going to continue to rise if we [didn’t] take action.”
When she returned to Samoa – when the government launched an appeal for international healthcare workers to help – she observed that they was a lack of vaccinators.
She said: ‘We had a lot of people who were volunteering their time to help with the vaccination programs, but we didn’t have enough nurses to actually vaccinate. Luckily, I was certified to be able to vaccinate.’
She also started promoting her message more, making informative videos and posting more on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
When she was conducting door-to-door vaccinations, people would recognise her on the street.
Ms McFarland-Seumanu said: “Every single family that we’d stopped to was excited I guess, to see that the Miss Pacific Islands was at their doorstep.
“At the time, I didn’t think of myself as Miss Pacific Islands. I was solely just another team player that was there to help vaccinate.”
She added: “After people lost babies to measles, some of the families reached out and said, ‘This is what the Miss Samoa girl was talking about on the radio station.’ And no one had really absorbed those messages at the time.”
Now Ms McFarland-Seumanu, based at a Samoan Government buildingin Apia, is helping inform people about coronavirus on Facebook and promoting national immunisation week.
She said: “It’s a crazy and unprecedented time right now globally with the latest COVID-19 pandemic. It’s heart breaking to hear the rising death toll contributed to this virus.
“But it’s reassuring to know that countries throughout the world are taking action to minimise the spread of this virus by implementing a lockdown or period of isolation.”
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