By Nicholas Jones in Apia
Samoa's school year has begun with classes smaller than they should be.
Lagia Palu was so excited to start she'd often dress-up in her big sister's uniform, but the 5-year-old died in early December, days after catching measles.
The next day the extended household suffered another tragedy, when measles took Lagia's 3-year-old cousin. The little boy and girl are buried in the backyard, which slopes down to meet the ocean.
"Too many babies have been lost," said Lagia's uncle, Martin Tautua, who has moved home since the tragedy. "It's terrible. Terrible. But I know she is in heaven. That kid meant a lot to me; that's like my baby, I spoiled that little girl.
"Every time I came over, she'd climb onto my back, and when my sister said, 'Get down, get down', she'd say, 'No, I'm riding the bus!' She was the smartest kid ever, she'd have so many questions for you, you'd not even know. She was adorable."
The family live in Saleimoa, near Apia, and among the communities hardest hit by a measles epidemic that infected thousands last year and took 83 lives, mostly babies and children.
New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat) has said it's "highly likely" that travellers from Aotearoa were the main source for the Samoan outbreak, and Associate Health Minister Julie Anne Genter is now set to announce a major health campaign to close so-called immunity gaps within the New Zealand population.
A Herald investigation has obtained a Ministry of Health document from August last year, compiled by its communicable disease team with input from the national verification committee for measles and rubella elimination (NVC), a group of the country's top experts.
Measles outbreaks had hit New Zealand when the report was finalised in August, but hadn't yet taken off in the Pacific. Since May 2017 the expert committee made unsuccessful pleas for "catch-up" and targeted vaccination programmes.
"The NVC notes with disappointment that the recent increase in measles importation and subsequent outbreaks could have been avoided had its recommendations been acted upon in a timely manner," the ministry report stated.
Samoan authorities have faced their own criticism, with vaccination rates there being some of the lowest in the world before the outbreaks. The country's MMR immunisation programme was suspended for months after the July 2018 death of two toddlers, later confirmed to have been because of human error.
Dr Nikki Turner, who chairs the NVC but spoke in her role as director of the national immunisation advisory centre, said both New Zealand and Samoa "learnt a hard lesson last year around where we chose to prioritise our health focus". The challenge and responsibility was global, she said.
"While it is really disappointing that New Zealand transmitted measles, currently measles is being extensively transmitted between many countries.
"High immunisation coverage is hard to achieve and maintain ... [but] measles is preventable. I lose sleep over the children in Samoa who have died and have been severely ill, and those who were severely ill in New Zealand."
Life has been hard for Lagia Palu's family, but they've rallied together and had outside support, including from the ASA Foundation, which has delivered containers of donations from New Zealand, including 24 child-sized coffins.
Lagia had only very recently been vaccinated, her mother, Laina, said (it can take two weeks to develop full immunity). She was given a ball as an early present but other Christmas gifts went unopened.
Laina misses her little friend who loved to sing, idolised her big sister and acted the mother and helped bath her baby sister.
She thinks about Lagia constantly, including when she sees flocks of school kids, or hears their happy chatter.
"When I woke up early in the morning, at 5am, to pray, she was always with me - she'd always follow me. Her and me.
"[Now] in the morning I pray all the time and then cry. I always remember her."