A donation page set up by rugby player Sonny Bill Williams has raised almost $80,000 to help families in Samoa following the measles outbreak that’s reached a death toll of 70.
The former All Black player launched the Alofa Mo Samoa fundraising initiative last week, donating NZ $30,000 as a collective contribution with New Zealand rugby union players Jerome Kaino, Ardie Savea, Patrick Tuipulotu, Michael Jones, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, and former Wallaby player Quade Cooper.
In three days the fundraiser administered on the Give A Little platform has attracted over 500 donations, taking the figure to just over $79,000.
The sports stars intend to keep the account open for seven more days, before former All Black player and coach, Sir Michael Jones will coordinate the delivery of gifts to the Samoan families who have lost loved ones as a result of the measles outbreak.
“Our hearts are heavy and hurting at this time for our people in Samoa,” read a statement on the official Alofa Mo Samoa page, with Alofa being the Samoan word for love.
“We have decided to start a page where those like hearted brothers and sisters can join us in bringing the power of our collective love and alofa to those families most impacted.
“Please join us in donating money that will go straight to the immediate families who have suffered loss of a loved one as a result of this terrible measles outbreak.”
The highly infectious disease has attacked Samoa’s most vulnerable, with 61 out of the 70 casualties aged four and under, the government said on Monday.
After causing devastation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar and Ukraine, among others, measles cases started appearing en masse earlier this year in the New Zealand city of Auckland, a hub for travel to and from small Pacific islands.
The virus then took hold in Samoa which had the lowest vaccination rates in the region.
There are now almost 4,700 reported cases of measles in Samoa’s island population of only 200,000.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) last week described the global epidemic as “an outrage” given most deaths have been in children under five years old who had not been vaccinated.
“The fact that any child dies from a vaccine-preventable disease like measles is frankly an outrage and a collective failure to protect the world’s most vulnerable children,” said the WHO’s director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus.
Supported by foreign governments and international aid agencies, Samoa has been conducting a vaccination drive that the government said has now covered nearly 90% of eligible people.
There are currently 16 critically ill children in intensive care in Samoa, and two pregnant women are also in hospital.
Jonathan Barrett (Reuters) contributed to this report.