Grieving families' final toll

Families whose children have died from measles are reporting struggling to pay bills of more than $600 to have the bodies of their loved ones released from the national hospital morgue.

Some parents even told the Samoa Observer that the high cost of morgue fees had forced them to delay their children’s burials.

At a time when overseas aid is pouring into Samoa and local businesses are establishing charitable funds, including assistance with funeral costs, some families say they have been unable to pay the fees imposed by the national morgue.  

One young father from Vaitele, Alex Lee Cheung, says he paid $650 tala at the Moto’otua morgue after his 15-month-old son died from measles. 

“My son had to be kept at the Moto’otua morgue for about a week while I was getting treatment for measles,” Mr. Lee Cheung told the Samoa Observer.

The father, who later contracted measles, and suspects he got it from his deceased son when he attempted to resuscitate him before he passed away. 

“I got the measles really badly just after my son died and the reason why he was kept a little longer at the morgue while I was trying to recover,” he said. 

“We had to pay $650 tala for his morgue fees before he could be released…I actually thought it would have been free or a lot less than that.” 

The father who works for a Government ministry has been on special leave since the death of his son who he described as “superman”. 

After contracting measles, Mr. Lee Cheung said he has been feeling ill despite recovering from the measles. 

“Even after being treated with measles I get sick now and then,” he said. 

“But I’m more concerned about my wife she is pregnant again and worried she might contract measles and affect our unborn child.” 

Written questions sent to the National Emergency Operation Centre on Thursday about the morgue fees were not responded to by press time on Friday. 

The father’s 15-month-old son, Seluka Utumapu of Vailoa, died in November when the death toll for measles stood at 17.  

While Mr. Lee Cheung is fortunate to have the support of his family to fork out $650 for his son’s morgue fees, other “less fortunate” families say they have been unable to pay the costs asked of them. 

One of those families is Eseta and Meki Tavita from Toamua. 

The couple went door knocking to find monetary assistance to pay for their son’s morgue fees. 

Their three-year-old son Meki Jr. Tavita was kept at the Moto’otua morgue for less than a week before he was laid to rest. 

“We’re less fortunate compared to other families – we couldn’t afford the $250 morgue fees,” said Mrs. Tavita. 

“Eventually the hospital agreed to accept our $150 tala which was all the money we had so we can bury my son. 

“We had to delay his burial for a day because we needed to find money to pay for those costs and fixing his small grave.” 

Other than the families which used the national hospital morgue, many other families were offered free charges to keep their loved ones at the Sefo’s Funeral Services at Moto’otua and Savai’I. 

According to the son of the Sefo’s funeral services, Shane Tuilagi, their funeral parlour has assisted close to 50 families who had members that died from measles. 

Mr. Tuilagi said majority of those that were kept at the funeral services were children and the private company did not take any morgue payments for the deceased children. 

“For the children alone those under 15 years old it was free,” he said. 

“Those above 15 years the fee is usually about $1000 above but the families were only given a fee of about $100 tala which is a lot less than the normal price.”

Mr. Tuilagi said the funeral service had assisted many families that died at home and weren’t reported at the hospital. 

“Some days we would get about four people [died from measles],” he said. 

“We tried our best to help the families affected. Some families didn’t require our transport service because the coffins were small and opted to use their own vehicles…other parents preferred to carry their own children in their coffin, it was heartbreaking.”  

The first adult victim of the measles who was a 30-year-old father and his son from Lotopa were kept at Sefo funeral services. 

Another funeral parlour at Malifa, Ligaliga Fusi and Son’s funeral service had also helped some more than 13 families affected with measles epidemic. 

The company assisted by offering free coffins, embalming and transporting services to grieving families. 

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