5 Oct 2009

Samoa tsunami spawns concern about disease outbreaks

12:08 pm on 5 October 2009

The head of Samoa's Ministry of Health, Palanitina Toelupe, says sick people are not coming forward despite infectious diseases threatening the tsunami-stricken nation.

18 orthopaedic and general surgeons, anaesthetists and nurses from all over New Zealand are helping with the medical relief effort.

Five more health professionals leave this morning.

Mrs Toelupe says all of the country's 10-thousand homeless face the risk of disease.

Besides diarrhoea and gastroenteritis, she's worried about the potential for cases of typhoid and dengue fever to surge.

"People are not coming forward to be treated. They are just keeping away from the affected areas and staying inland. So the health professionals, as well as colleagues from Australia and New Zealand, are going out to see them and try to encourage them to come forward."

Palanitina Toelupe, the CEO of Samoa's Health Ministry.

Families in Samoa who wish to bury their loved ones privately are being warned of the difficulties of getting the bodies released from the morgue.

The Samoan government is to put on a mass funeral for the victims of the tsunami, with about half of the bodies expected to be buried in a communal service on Thursday, Samoa time.

Aucklander Ben Taufua has had the bodies of his family released from the morgue for private burial.

But he says the government's mass funeral proposal made the process difficult, and it wasn't clear how those who didn't want to participate in the public funeral would be able to acccess the bodies.

The confirmed combined death toll for the tsunami across three islands is 176, 135 of them in Samoa.

Aid workers in Samoa say directing water to where it's needed most is proving difficult, as the tsunami relief effort continues.

New Zealand's Defence Force is still trying to identify the best place to locate a portable water purification plant, to benefit the most people.

In the meantime, the Red Cross says it's tough getting water to those in hilly, makeshift villages who are too scared to return home.

The spokesperson for the organisation, Rosemary North, says the Red Cross and Fire Service are trucking water daily to people in those areas.

Ms North says today is Sunday in Samoa so relief distributions will stop out of respect for a day of mourning and prayer.

New Zealand's Pacific Island Advisory Council has called on the Manukau City Council to assist with relief aid for tsunami victims.

The Advisory Council says it has entered into negotiations with the City Council to provide containers to send to the thre islands affected, Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga's Niuatoputapu.

Last night, the Lotofalei'a Tongan Methodist Church in the Auckland suburb of Mangere held a memorial service.

Salote Heleta Lilo of the Advisory Council was at the function and says it's hoped the containers will benefit tsunami victims in Tonga and Samoa.