Hawaii Lt. Gov. Josh Green is heading to Samoa with a team of medical professionals this week to assist with the ongoing measles crisis.

Green and a team of about 55 nurses — most of whom are from Queen’s Health Systems — and 10 to 15 physicians are planning to leave early Wednesday morning and conduct 48 hours of vaccinations.

As of Tuesday morning, Samoa’s measles outbreak has killed at least 55 people, the vast majority of whom were children. The goal is to provide immunizations to stop the measles epidemic and deliver needed health care, Green said at a press conference Tuesday.

Lieutenant Gov Josh Green at Samoa measle presser announcing medical mission.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green is leading a medical mission to Samoa to help vaccinate against the measles. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

Green, an emergency room physician, said the trip will be funded through private donations and has been in the works for five days. He credited former Honolulu mayor Mufi Hannemann for putting him in touch with Samoa’s political leaders.

Hawaiian Airlines is funding a direct flight to Apia for the volunteers. Anne Boticelli, a spokeswoman for Hawaiian Airlines, said the plan is to get the team to Apia by 8 a.m. Wednesday morning. Par Hawaii is donating the fuel for the flight. Green said Fiji Airways is donating the return flight.

The World Health Organization is arranging accommodations for the volunteers, Green said.

The Health Care Association of Hawaii is gathering medical supplies to donate to Samoa. One of the challenges is that Samoa relies on a different voltage system.

Nadine Salle, head of pediatrics at Queen’s, said the team could immunize up to 50,000 people over the next 48 to 72 hours. She described the situation in Samoa as a preventable tragedy.

“Two to seven people are passing away every day,” she said. “Their ICU is beyond overflowing.”

She said the hospital is in desperate need of emergency room physicians and supplies.

“They’re having to choose which child will be on the ventilator, which children will get vaccinations,” she said.

Hannemann spoke at the press conference, thanking Green and the others for their help.

“This will not be forgotten,” he said. “This is just such a tremendous humanitarian effort that speaks volumes.”

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