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New Zealand Samoans respond to Samoa’s measles epidemic – ‘It’s heartbreaking’

Health authorities in Samoa continue to battle against the measles epidemic that has so far claimed 42 lives. There are just over 3100 confirmed cases of the disease, but that number is still expected to climb.

Yesterday Foreign Minister Winston Peters announced more New Zealand support for Samoa, including a further 100,000 vaccines, nurse vaccinators, ICU specialists and Samoan-speaking medical professionals.

The situation in the islands has moved many Samoans in New Zealand to want to do something. 

Aucklander Joyce Purcell started collected nappies, books, sheets, disposable gloves – anything to help people in her homeland. “We’re sitting here thinking, ‘How can we help when we’re not there?’”

Community Leader Teleiai Edwin Puni says a feeling of helplessness is felt by many Samoans overseas. “They say in Samoa it takes a village to raise a child, but what happens when that child dies? And how do you cope when a relative loses a child and then a second child and then three children? There’s frustration. But we’re not hopeless; there’s a lot we can do.”

Teleiai says Samoans have a lot of experience through the 2009 tsunami efforts in providing support at multiple levels. He emphasized the support needed will be ongoing, especially as we near towards Christmas.

“No one is looking forward to big parties in Samoa. The community is starting to rally, and we pray for anything to make [that support] happen.”

New Zealand Samoan Paediatrician Dr Teuila Percival, who took time to help directly in Samoa, says medical professionals are working around the clock.

“I was at Leulumoega Hospital, which was a measles-only hospital. Normally Leulumoega has six inpatient beds, and we were having 28-30 children in hospital with measles and seeing anything from 40-50 cases coming in as outpatients during the day.” 

On average over 200 new cases of measles have been reported each day since the outbreak, but the vaccination rate is going up. “We may still not have reached the peak quite yet, but once [the effectiveness of] the immunisations start kicking in, then we’ll see a gradual decline in cases,” says New Zealand Red Cross Nurse Karen Page.

For Samoans here, what’s happening in their homeland is a tragedy. “It’s heartbreaking,” says Dr Teuila. “It’s the children that are suffering.”

“I’ve never seen so much measles in my entire career. I’ve never seen such sick children with measles. It’s so sad that it’s happening in Samoa, in our homeland.”

Ways to help:
National Emergency Operation Centre (NEOC)
Account Name: BSP GOS Direct Transfer Fund Account
Account Number: 2001-123104
Bank Name:  Bank South Pacific Limited
Bank Address: Beach Road, Apia, SAMOA
Swift Code: BOSPWSWS

New Zealand Red Cross Pacific Disaster Fund
https://www.redcross.org.nz/donate/pacific-disaster-fund/

Measles Samoa Fund Appeal
For New Zealand you can make a donation to the MEASLES SAMOA FUND APPEAL account No: 06-0082-0929955-00; Bank: ANZ Bank
Overseas donations can use the Givealittle page MEASLES SAMOA FUND APPEAL: 
https://givealittle.co.nz/…/please-donate-to-measles-samoa-…

Contact Tuala Tagaloa Tusani on (+6421) 0223-8663 or email tagaloatusani@gmail.com if you wish to be involved in the collection of hygiene supply for Samoa. Collection points are being set up in Auckland and Sydney.

You can contact Teleiai Edwin Puni on (+6421) 618-042 or email: edwin@puni.co.nz for more information on the support his team are providing.

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