A Te Awamutu based nurse has just returned from Samoa where she spent a week of her own time volunteering in a paediatric ward with children with measles at Tupua Tamasese Meaole in Apia.

Within eight days of seeing a call for volunteers post on social media, 24-year-old Vanessa Nightinghale and her co-worker Aimee Were had boarded a plane to Samoa to help the country during its measles epidemic.

Both are nurses in Waikato Hospital's emergency department.

"It felt like forever from the time of seeing that post to getting there. Each day we kept saying we just needed to be over there, especially having watched the death toll continue to go up," said Vanessa.


Vanessa had spotted a post online made by ventilator and respiratory medical device producers Bellavista Medical who were sending a number of ventilators over to Samoa and needed critical care nurses to operate them.

With just one email and support from their Waikato Hospital Emergency Department boss who ensured the pair got the time off they needed, they were ready.

Samoa's Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) organised everything for them.

Their flights were sponsored by Samoa Airways, which came as a surprise, and ADRA provided them with accommodation, transport and food for the whole week.

For five days they worked 12-hour shifts in wards that had up to 36 patients with measles, all mostly under two-year-olds, and they were working in 32 degree heat with no air conditioning.

From left, Aimee Were, Sarah Croton, owner of Bellavista Medical Paul Mac Williams, Peace Lee and Vanessa Nightinghale at Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital. Photo / Supplied
From left, Aimee Were, Sarah Croton, owner of Bellavista Medical Paul Mac Williams, Peace Lee and Vanessa Nightinghale at Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital. Photo / Supplied

"I've always wanted to do some volunteer work and so when the opportunity came up it was really a no-brainer."

"Working there was nothing like I've ever experienced. I'd come onto a shift and be looking after up to nine babies who all had measles. The babies were so unwell that they'd just be lying there quite still. I did a lot of work with the families too. They were all so patient," said Vanessa.

While they were there the Samoan Government ordered a two-day shut down across the island in efforts to contain the disease and facilitate a vaccination campaign which has seen nearly 100 per cent of the population vaccinated.


The epidemic broke out in October this year and since then there have been 4995 confirmed cases of measles and 72 deaths, 61 under the age of four.

Last year the Government also suspended its vaccination programme after two infants were killed after been given a measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination that was contaminated.

The two nurses who administered the vaccinations pleaded guilty to negligence causing manslaughter and were sentenced in August to five years imprisonment.

The incident shook the public's confidence in the health system and Vanessa said while stopping vaccinations certainly hasn't helped the epidemic, the public's faith had started to be restored.

Just 16 per cent of the population had both MMR vaccinations last year.

"Even when vaccinations were allowed again I heard of Samoans who still wouldn't get them done, but now that people from all around the world have come to help their faith in the health system is starting to come back I noticed," said Vanessa.

In the pair's final days working in Samoa Vanessa said the number of patients in their ward decreased as the spread of measles started to slow.

They had just one day off and spent it exploring the island.

"It was really nice to have the Saturday off because up until then we had only known the path from our accommodation to the hospital," said Vanessa.

The pair got back to New Zealand last Monday and went straight back to work the next day where they were greeted by proud workmates, some of which have been inspired by them to also look at volunteering in Samoa.