Common Diseases in SamoaSamoa is a great vacation destination. There are museums, places to go surfing and beaches to relax on. However, the tropical weather and abundance of water gives rise to many infectious diseases. Below is a guide to the most common diseases in Samoa.

Zika Virus
Due to a number of mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus, the virus has become one of the most common diseases in Samoa. Thus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends taking precautionary measures. The virus is spread via mosquito bites and sexual contact with an infected person. Thus, the CDC advises travelers and locals to avoid bug bites and use condoms whenever possible. This is even more important for pregnant women, as they are at risk of passing the virus onto their offspring.

Also, it is possible to contract the virus and not even know it. It is typical for people to not experience anything beyond a mild sickness (if they get sick at all) or show distinct symptoms. At the time of writing, there are no cures, medication or vaccines for the Zika virus.

Hepatitis A
Spread through contact with the hands of an infected person and contaminated water and food, people are at risk of catching hepatitis A in Samoa. If someone does develop symptoms, they likely won’t appear until the virus has been in their system for a couple of weeks. The symptoms include mild fever, joint pain, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, abdominal/liver pain or discomfort, jaundice, clay-colored bowel movements and dark urine.

Fortunately, there is a vaccine that people can ask their doctors/nurses for. This, paired with eating foods prepared correctly and safely, drinking clean (preferably carbonated) water, maintaining personal hygiene and avoiding bushmeat, should prevent the contraction hepatitis A.

Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B can be found all over the world, but it is particularly prevalent in Samoa. It is so common that, in 2015, the Samoan Cabinet authorized a doctor to participate in a New Zealand meeting discussing hepatitis B treatment and possible drug donation to Samoans. Hepatitis B can spread via unprotected sex, contact with infected blood, unscreened blood transfusions or during childbirth. Even infected items such as razor blades, needles and unclean medical or dental equipment can spread the virus.

According to IAMAT, a nonprofit focused on giving travelers up-to-date health information, hepatitis B is also asymptomatic for many of those who have it. It typically takes anywhere from one to six months after exposure to experience illness and shares many of its symptoms with hepatitis A. Untreated hepatitis B “can lead to liver failure, liver cancer and even death.”

A series of vaccinations are available for Hep B. IAMAT goes on to recommend other preventative measures such as practicing safe sex; avoiding injuries during physical activities; getting medical and dental care done at a trustworthy institution; not sharing needles or razors and avoid getting any new tattoos or piercings.

Typhoid, like hepatitis A, can spread through contaminated food and water. In addition to common symptoms such as weakness and stomach pains, some can experience constipation and a rash.

A vaccine in the form of a shot or pills is available. The prevention methods are the same as hepatitis A. Additionally, close contact (such as sharing food/utensils/cups/kisses/hugs) with infected individuals should also be avoided.

While the most common diseases in Samoa may not all be life-threatening initially, it is best to err on the side of caution and heed the preventative measures.

Jada Haynes

Photo: Flickr

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency’s (UNWRA) health program has dramatically decreased the risk of communicable and vaccine-preventable disease among Palestinian refugees in Syria. However, doing such great work is challenging among crowded refugee camps that are not easily accessible. The threat of contagious diseases is always present.

The threat of a potential typhoid outbreak spreading to the capital of Damascus was prevalent in July, had UNWRA not been allowed to help. The largest “unofficial” camp at Yarmouk emptied of Palestinian refugees after fighting began between Islamic State, local groups and government forces. Refugees are temporarily in Yalda and other towns close by controlled by armed groups that have reached deals with government. The groups have strong leaders and civilian committees that collaborate with UN agencies.

UNWRA was able to deliver whatever was needed to refugees between April 23 and June 8. They provided 6,000 food parcels each month, and healthcare. Since June 8, UNWRA has no longer been allowed, as a result of assassinations in Yalda, supposedly by insurgents. Those inaccessible places saw the lost of UNWRA host areas for the distribution of water and medical services.

The Syrain Arab Red Crescent and other aid organisations have little access to these areas where there is a strong need for water purification tablets and hygiene kits. In a similar situation last year, access was eventually granted. In other parts of Syria, 10,000 Palestinians have been displaced to a small Aleppo camp with no electricity or water. To the east of Aleppo city, the large Neirab camp is under government control.

UNWRA has done everything it can in the places it can access. UNWRA staff wasted no time when they heard about potential thyphoid outbreak in Yarmouk. They took blood and water samples from those who showed symptoms, and within 24 hours thyphoid medicine was delivered to Yarmouk. Currently, the number of cases are decreasing and under control.

UNWRA is hopeful about preventing outbreaks, with its rapid response of reporting cases to UNWRA senior staff, having medicine in Damacus office and 3 month supply kept at clinics. The concern for areas that are not easily accessible is still present.

Agencies are preparing for worsening conditions in Deraa and Aleppo. Before conflict started in 2011, there were 560,000 Palestinian refugees registered with the UNWRA in Syria; today, there are 480,000, 95 percent of which need constant aid. The number of consultation for medical services have gone up from 100 to 500.

Palestinian refugees are closed off from Jordan and Lebanon, which leaves them with two options: staying in a war zone or being smuggled to Turkey, where they will take unreliable boats to Europe.

UNWRA needs $414 million just for Syria this year due to the 2014 appeal being only half funded. Due to under-funding, it will have to postpone the school year for 700 schools for half a million children unless they receive $101 million from donors by August. A source believes they should qualify, considering they are one of the countries taking part in the US-led campaign against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, which already has cost $5 billion.

UNWRA devotes half of its budget to education; schools ensure continuity and stability for children in conflicted Syria and Gaza, unstable Lebanon, the Israeli-occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, and Jordan, all trying to manage the influx of Palestinian and Syrian refugees.

In the past decade, donor contributions have not kept up with population growth. UNWRA offers protection and services to 5 million refugees, but it currently only has enough money to provide relief and healthcare, leaving education out of the equation.

Paula Acevedo

Sources: Europa, Irish Times
Photo: Mashable