New Zealand sports star Sonny Bill Williams is heading a public fund-raising effort for families affected by the Samoan measles epidemic, as the death toll rose Saturday to 65.
The Samoan Ministry of Health said there were two further fatalities in the past 24 hours amid signs that the infection rate was slowing.
Williams — a double rugby union World Cup winner with the All Blacks, and a former rugby league international and New Zealand boxing champion — has teamed up with other prominent sportsmen to promote the “Alofa mo Samoa” Givealittle page.
“Our hearts are heavy and hurting at this time for our people in Samoa,” says the givealittle page set up by the group of past and present All Blacks including Williams, Jerome Kaino, Ardie Savea, Michael Jones and former Wallaby Quade Cooper.
“Please join us in donating money that will go straight to the immediate families who have suffered loss of a loved one as a result of this terrible measles outbreak”.
Williams separately tweeted that the group had started the fund with a NZ$30,000 donation (US$20,000).
There had been 4,460 confirmed measles cases in Samoa since the outbreak began in mid-October, and 57 of the 65 deaths were children under the age of five.
The Ministry of Health said 103 new measles cases were reported over the past 24 hours which was 37 fewer than the previous day and down from 165 the day before that.
The figures were released following a two-day lockdown while the government conducted an unprecedented mass vaccination drive.
The ministry said an estimated 89 percent of all eligible people in the Pacific island nation of 200,000 have now have been vaccinated against measles.
But Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said that was still not good enough.
“I am not proud. I am only proud when we do 100 percent,” he said.