In Samoa, an independent nation that is part of the same island chain as American Samoa, the government has taken sweeping measures to control the disease’s spread after initial delays in the response to the outbreak.
During a mass vaccination campaign in early December, the fear that had washed over the country was clear. Families hung red flags outside their homes to alert health workers that they needed a shot, with some bearing messages like “Help!” or “I want to live!”
That effort has put Samoa on the cusp of achieving a 95 percent vaccination rate, seen as the threshold for “herd immunity” — effective protection from the spread of the disease.
For many, it came too late. Over all, 77 people have died in the epidemic, and at least 5,400 cases of measles have been reported among the population of 200,000, though the numbers are most likely higher.
For weeks, families have been holding burials all over the island nation. Funeral homes, used to handling the elderly, are preparing tiny coffins for the bodies of young children and babies, with many offering their services at no charge.
In the village of Faleasiu, the family of Valisa Talosaga, 2, kissed and caressed her body last week before burying her in front of their home. In Vailele, another village, Timoteo Fuatogi, 29, wiped tears with his shirt as a pastor prayed over the open grave of his baby brother. Then the mourners filled the dirt back in with a bucket.
The family, who are street vendors, had taken the child to traditional healers after he contracted measles from his twin brother. He later died in a hospital.