Children stay home, Christmas gatherings cancelled in Samoa

Something was clearly missing at church services in Samoa this weekend - children.

Father Losi Antonio, of Mulivai Catholic Church in the south of Samoa, said at the start of the service the congregation prayed for those who had lost loved ones to measles as well as those fighting the disease.

Forty-eight people so far have died since the outbreak began - most of them children.

Strict government rules required children to stay at home from Mass, which is a big part of most Samoan's week.

"I asked the parish here to please make the children stay home," he said.

This weekend also marked the start of Advent - the lead-up to Christmas celebrations.

But Father Antonio said that traditional Christmas gatherings have also been cancelled.

"We are heading towards Christmas, a time of happiness, a time of love, a time of joy, but these families are suffering," he said.

Meanwhile, patients are still coming into district hospitals around the country.

One is Lalomanu District Hospital, an hour and a half from Apia.

Registered nurse Selwyn Amataga is in charge of the small hospital which sits on a hill overlooking the village.

Most of the patients he's seen have recovered, although seven were rushed to Apia hospital.

But he says one of their challenges is managing vaccine supplies.

"We're not out of vaccines right now but we have 60 and we are planning to visit six more villages that we haven't covered yet," he said.

"Our priorities are the little ones, from six months to 19 for the boys and six months to 35 for the females."

He said the authorities were getting more vaccines out quickly when needed, but he is concerned infection rates are still rising.

More than 3500 people now have measles in Samoa, - providing a challenge to already exhausted medical staff.