Following the printing by the Otago Daily Times of a highly offensive Garrick Tremain cartoon, I think it is necessary to reiterate the importance of showing our support for Samoa. The historical links between New Zealand and Samoa help to provide back ground to this. With Samoa dealing with a major measles outbreak, hopefully some historic context will enable people outside of Samoa to understand New Zealand’s chequered pass in administering the islands.
Our treatment of Samoa and Samoans following World War 1 was an abomination. A ship carrying soldiers returning from Europe asked if it could dock in Samoa in late 1918 or early 1919. The consequences of it being allowed to dock reverberate through Samoan history to this day.
Word of an influenza outbreak had reached the small Pacific Island in 1918, but few had any obvious understanding of how it works. Influenza was a foreign thing. It was the result of the environment that the troops fighting in World War 1 had to bear – inhospitable conditions year round for four years including terrain so blasted no one knew where they were. As the troops boarded ships home in all directions from Europe, the combination of close living quarters, and medical treatment – or lack off – would have severely tested the health of any human who put up with it. When it docked in Apia for a few days it enabled the spread of influenza throughout a population not known to have had had any past outside connections to such an emergency. The ship’s crew had not presented signs of influenza, despite two crew being sent ashore in Auckland, but by the time it reached Apia many of them had it.
Samoa would suffer horribly. 7542 were killed in the outbreak. And for that one can only say how sorry we were to see the influenza pandemic back. Yes, it is true that Samoa has had lower vaccination rates than normal. Yes it is true that a botched round left two infants dead. These were some of the contributing factors in determining how the nature of the incident will affect their work.
New Zealand announcing that it stands with Samoa is barely a start. Whilst we have made welcome efforts to help Samoa fight the measles, M.M.R. is something that can be fully immunised against and thus we can afford to give them substantially more assistance in fully eradicating a disease that was thought to have been removed as of 1978.