Measles epidemic 'worse than tsunami'

By Bronson Perich
ASA Foundation and Samoa Solidarity International Global (SSIG) members take a short break while packing supplies for Samoa / File

Measles continues to devastate Samoa, as more than 60 have died. Community group ASA Foundation says the epidemic is worse than the tsunami that devastated the country in 2009.

"The epidemic is worse than the tsunami because no one knows when it will end," ASA Foundation Head Teleiai Edwin Puni, says.

ASA spokesperson Tuala Tagaloa Tusani says, “We lost a lot of lives but we knew there was an end. We knew at the end how many we lost.

“This is different, you know, it seems to be climbing at a faster rate now. I mean we were at 52 yesterday, now we are 62."

He says the suffering in Samoa is so deeply felt that there is an urgency to help.

“We can’t just sit here as New Zealand based Samoans, or just Kiwis in a way, and see the suffering back home and not react.”

Recently, Tusani used social media to call on the Samoan community to collect supplies to be sent home. He did not realise the call would be heard in Australia, as well as across the motu.

“Christchurch has come on board, they will release shortly. Levin is on board, Palmerston North, two sites from Wellington.”

People gave so much that more shipping containers were needed to transport the contributions. Freight forwarder EIF International sponsored the first 12-metre container, which was being packed today. Manukau based Henderson cars has sponsored a second.

Tusani says he is grateful for those people who responded to the foundation's call.

“I want to acknowledge all these people because we were all strangers a week or two ago.”

Fletcher Construction has offered to help the foundation with building a distribution centre to house the outgoing supplies. Tusani will be returning to Samoa soon to oversee the construction of the facility and ensure that the gifts get to where they are needed.

“I’ve got some volunteer builders that have said they want to be part of it."

In addition to sending medical supplies, the foundation has a Givealittle campaign to assist families affected by measles.

To provide transparency, the foundation says it has adopted a policy of transferring funds to Samoa then having foundation representatives deliver the money in person to families that asked for support. Photos are then taken and posted to social media.

Tofilau Esther (right) from ASA Foundation delivers a donation to a Samoan whānau.  Photo/Teleiai Edwin Puni (Facebook)

“It’s just to be accountable, whatever comes in we’re giving it straight to the families. That’s how we’re working,” Tusani says.

He has a message for the people of Samoa.

“We’re not just sitting quietly playing with our thumbs, we are trying our best, we feel your pain. 

“We can’t bring back those we have lost, we’re not doctors, we’re not nurses but we are trying our best with what we can.”