Duncan Garner: NZ needs to share blame for Samoa measles crisis

OPINION: Samoa is in an international state of medical emergency. Its people are in lockdown, the Government is officially shut down for two days in reaction to the measles meltdown.  

Today, authorities will go village to village, house to house, bedroom to bedroom, trying to get people vaccinated.  

Red flags will be on letterboxes. The flags scream "help, we're not immunised". 

That's 40 percent of the country, so expect lots of red flags today. 

Samoa is in a race against time.

By the numbers here's how it looks: 

  • 60 people have died - 52 of those are aged four and under 
  • Five people have died in the past 24 hours.

And the counting has not stopped by any means.

  • There have been 4052 cases reported since the outbreak
  • 171 in the last 24 hours
  • 177 people are in hospital 
  • 20 are children in critical condition

And yes, New Zealand officials and medics are there desperately trying to help and it's the very least we can do.  

But we never understood the scale of this crisis.

We sent a small team, and only realised much later that we needed to do more. 

Who's to blame?

Well, that can be shared. Samoa has woefully low immunisation rates, but we didn't help by flying the measles direct to our island neighbour.

We were not screening people on flights. Accepted, that's difficult. But we were far too slow to elevate our own crisis here and as a result exported it to Samoa, who stood unprepared and unarmed in the warzone about to unleash.

Should we be embarrassed by our reaction? 

Damn straight we should be. 

We have blood on our hands and here's why. 

We refused to vaccinate a 15-month-old baby in South Auckland before he flew back to Samoa with his family on Tuesday. Why? Well, he had no New Zealand passport. 

Who cares? A baby is a baby and this is a medical emergency - to hell with the paperwork and silly rules.  

New Zealand, this is shameful and largely sums up our contribution. 

Let this crisis be our lesson for the future. 

To our Pacific friends, I'm sorry that we have been more than shabby in our response. 

Duncan Garner is host of The AM Show.

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