Rotorua volunteers working tirelessly to build children's coffins for Samoan measles crisis

11/12/2019  Michael Morrah

Credits: Newshub.

A group of volunteers from Rotorua has been working 12-hour days to make tiny coffins for the victims of Samoa's measles crisis. 

"Every single one of us are volunteers. All senior citizens and I say that being 70, and the oldest being 90," said Ron Wattam, the trustee and treasurer of the Rotorua Kiwi Coffin Club. 

It's a labour of love. All the caskets are delicately lined and the generosity is not going unnoticed.

One Rotorua woman has brought the team food for their efforts.

"Just thought I would come and give some kai to support the workers who are doing such a good job for our people back home," said Melape Wallace.

They have never made so many coffins in such a short period of time.

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But say they wouldn't hesitate to do it all again. 

"If we were asked to do it again tomorrow, we would," Wattam told Newshub through tears. 

For Wattam and the rest of the coffin builders, it's about helping ease the burden on families so they can manage death with dignity. 

Samoan authorities say they've now vaccinated around 91 percent of the population, and the number of new cases is dropping. 

But Samoa's main hospital and its staff remain under immense strain.  Tents have been set up in the car park to help with the influx of patients. 

"The experience I have had here before… this is another level," said Auckland intensive care specialist Dr Chris Poynter.

The latest figures show Samoa has recorded 4,898 measles cases. Of those, 71 people, mostly children and babies, have died. 

Another 20 children and three pregnant women are in critical condition. There have been 83 new measles cases in the past 24 hours. 

But for the first time in weeks, only one additional death has been recorded over the past two days. 

And the number of new cases fell by four on yesterday's figures. 

"It is hard for us to tell what the trajectory of this is like, whether this is as bad as it's going to get and it will start getting better. Everyone is hoping that we'll start turning a corner," said Dr Poynter.

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