2 Dec 2019

Samoa measles epidemic: Three children in one family killed

From Checkpoint, 5:08 pm on 2 December 2019

Samoa's government has announced the measles vaccine will be compulsory for everyone, as the death toll from the epidemic rises to 53.

Nearly 200 new cases were reported overnight, and health authorities have launched a mass vaccination campaign, reporting that almost a third of the country has been immunised in the last 12 days.

For young couple Fa'oso and Paulo Tuivale Puelua, it is too late. Three of their five children have died after contracting measles.

The family have been sitting and praying on the fresh grave of three young children, who were not immunised when they caught the virus.

Mr Puelua said he could not understand why and how it happened. Their three-year-old was at first sent home from hospital, with doctors giving him the all-clear. 

After a day back at home, he saw rashes on his son's skin and took him back to the hospital. 

"Two hours in hospital and he has died." 

Less than a week later, the couple's 18-month-old twins, Tamara and Sale caught measles and fell sick.

Samoans have a deep and delicate treatment of death. Graves are ubiquitous, attached to the front of houses, or given the place of honour in the centre of villages, often with pictures of those laid to rest. Older people, mostly. 

These three children now have their own fale. Mr Puelua built it as part of their home because his wife could not separate herself from them. 

She is sleeping at the grave, blaming herself. 

Mr Puelua, a gardener, has to keep up with his work routine. 

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Siliniu Lina Chang is a local hero leading the Samoa Victim Support group for domestic violence victims, but she also helps in many different causes. 

She has been visiting the family bringing clothes and other health supplies and has given some counselling to the pair's surviving children. 

"I talked with the two boys, four and six. They didn't talk much about the ordeal, but you can sense because all the children were playing on the other far side but they were still sitting on the grave."

She told Checkpoint their mother was not coping well. 

"She's very young, you can see she has her own mat on the grave."

Mr Puelua told her: "I miss my children, they were not supposed to die."

He prays other Samoan families get educated on immunisation, so they don't go through what his family have.