55 lives lost in Samoa no laughing matter

On December 3rd the Samoan government announced the death toll from the measles epidemic had reached 55, on the same day Otago Daily Times published a cartoon making an insensitive reference to the measles crisis in Samoa. The vast majority of the deaths so far have been children under the age of four. Needless to say our communities are outraged. LAUMATA LAUANO reports



55 lives lost to the disease, most of them babies. This is no laughing matter. This is heart-breaking.


The Pacific island nation of Samoa is in the midst of a measles epidemic, it began with reports of measles in Samoa- as New Zealand’s measles’ outbreak peaked- in August 2019.


However as New Zealand’s outbreak has largely been controlled with little to no fatalities- Samoa has not been so lucky.


Since the outbreak began on the Pacific island, the Samoan Ministry of Health says 3881 cases have been reported around a third of these - 1178 people - have been admitted to hospital, and 174 of these remain as an in-patient in a health facility.


However as of December 3, 2019 the Samoa Ministry of Health announced the death toll had reached 55- the majority of the deaths being babies.


The Samoan Government has ordered a complete shutdown of the country in a bid to vaccinate its people - with road closures for non-essential vehicles, inter-island travel banned and citizens ordered to stay home.


The two-day shutdown, which starts on Thursday, will see the public and private sectors closed as the Government strives to vaccinate at least 90 percent of its population.


So to see a cartoon, from one of our own regional newspapers, reducing the plight of a country with which New Zealand is said to be close to a play on words joke about spots is not just insensitive, it’s callous and never should have made it to publication.


Our communities, and not just our Pasifika communities, are understandably outraged. There was immediate and swift backlash online.








Messages of disgust calling for the cartoonist and whoever allowed the cartoon to be published to be sacked.


ODT’s first published online apology had little to no sincerity behind it:





Moreover to then hear Garrick Tremain on RNZ’s First Up this morning, saying a public apology to the Samoan nation wasn’t necessary, and that it was a “simple, light-hearted joke” is infuriating.


"I've personally apologised to those who have spoken to me for the fact that I've upset them - it was not my intention.


“But if you think that I should issue an apology to the Samoan nation, well I don't agree with you."


This isn’t the first time ODT have published borderline racist work by Tremain:




While staffers at ODT have voices their criticisms against the publication of the cartoon Tremain continues to have a platform to publish tone-deaf work.


This isn’t about timing, because even in the next 5 or 50 years, such a joke will not sit right.


It’s not about political correctness being suffocating as Tremain so sanctimoniously threw out during his interview on RNZ this morning.


It’s about having an ounce of compassion for the suffering of others, for a nation under the strain of such an epidemic.


It’s about allowing racist rhetoric and how continuing to give such an opinion a platform is downright negligent.


It really does lead us to ask the question- how much racism is too much racism and when will someone be held accountable for disseminating such indecent content lacking of any human empathy whatsoever?

As of December 4, 2019 the death toll has hit 60. Donate via Unicef here to help get more children in Samoa immunised against measles.


You can make a complaint to the Media Council here.