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  • Writer's pictureGary Moller

Measles and Malnutrition in Samoa

Story in a Glance:

Dr. Nikki Turner, a prominent vaccination expert, has been advocating for increased measles vaccinations, citing the risk of severe illnesses returning. The author, Gary, criticises the reliance on vaccinations alone, emphasising the importance of addressing underlying issues like poverty, poor nutrition, and overcrowding, both in Pacific Islands and New Zealand. Gary argues that true health resilience comes from a holistic approach that tackles these root causes, rather than solely relying on pharmaceutical solutions.


Beating the Drums of Fear!

I see that our head vaccination expert, Dr Nikki Turner, is beating the drums of fear, urging everyone to get vaccinated against measles.

Read about it here on Stuff, one of the most glorious cheerleaders of misinformation:

Glory be - Dr Turner has a Big Pharma cure for poverty and malnutrition!

Let me ask you this:

Who, in your opinion, is more credible on this topic: a medical official with close ties to Big Pharma, or a health professional such as myself, with over 50 years service at the coal-face of health, a healthy multiple-age-group world champion, and whose other half of his family are a mix of Cook Islands, Samoan, and Tongan descent?

Measles, Poverty, and Malnutrition

There have been an alarming number of deaths in Samoa from measles (38 and rising). This is an absolute tragedy. For such a small population, how come the death rate has been so high? Low rates of immunisation don't fully explain this high rate of mortality, and it never will. There's more at play than the experts are telling us.

Although the crisis in Samoa has ended, let's think about the root causes as to why Samoa suffered a devastatingly high death rate from what should be a harmless childhood illness for the vast majority, and deal with them.

I'll start this conversation with some travel pictures. Alofa and I have the goal of cycling the main islands of every Pacific Islands state. So far we've cycled Samoa, Tonga, Niue, Vanuatu, and Fiji. We have also done Bali. All of these islands, bar Niue, have a few things in common, and that's poverty and corruption, sometimes abject poverty — plus malnutrition.

Alama, Gary and Alofa biking around Vanuatu
How we got around the islands. It was hot and hard work but extremely rewarding.

Alofa and Alama in Samoa
Alofa and our son, Alama, cycling around Samoa. This way we get to meet the locals, to be hosted and fed by them. This is how to experience real island life.

Cute kids in a Vanuatu village where we stayed. They have been displaced from their lands by corrupt leaders and greedy property developers.

Our Vanuatu hostess is preparing our meal. These lovely people have very little to work with these days when it comes to food.

As with most of the pacific, traditional foods in Samoa have been mostly replaced by sugar, flour, soft drinks, margarine and KFC.

So, what has this got to do with measles?

When you travel the islands by bicycle and make a point of living with the natives, you see, time and again, the displacement of native populations by foreign tourist developments and farming operations that take over the best arable land and reef. Young men and women leave the villages and congregate in the towns seeking a better life. Traditional ways of living, including food production and food preparation, are being seismically disrupted.

The displacement and impoverishment of native populations are best seen in the dramatic way that food has changed in just a few generations. Traditional foods such as whole fish, seaweeds, shellfish, crabs, coconut, taro and breadfruit have been displaced by white rice, flour, soft drinks, sugar, margarine, pork belly and, of course, KFC. Diseases of "modern day malnutrition" are now rampant in the islands. Tooth decay, obesity, thyroid disease, diabetes, heart disease and arthritis to name some.

Poverty in the Pacific Islands suits New Zealand and Australia. Without having thousands of desperately poor people on our doorsteps, who else is there to do our seasonal, labour-intensive, and back-breaking horticultural work in places like our vineyards and orchards? New Zealand and Australian workers won't do it. It's hard labour, repetitive, weather-dependent, and sometimes isolated. The pay is so little per hour and unreliable that nobody in their right mind will do it. Pacific Islanders will do it because they are desperate for any kind of work. They'll do it for next to nothing. Seasonal labour from the islands enables New Zealand and Australia to produce cheaply food and wine to sell to rich consumers. If there was no poverty in the islands, our horticulture industry would be in trouble. Food prices would climb while export profits would decline.

With this displacement and impoverishment of island populations comes things like overcrowding, poor sanitation, and malnutrition, sometimes affecting thousands of natives on a single island. Alofa and I've seen plenty of it. This produces the perfect conditions for the transmission of diseases such as typhoid and measles.

According to the World Health Organisation, " The impact of malnutrition on Samoa, and particularly on the children of Samoa, is shocking. "

Read more about what the World Health Organisation has to say about the conditions in Samoa to understand why measles has gone like wildfire through Samoa and why it's killed so many (You don't see these things in the travel brochures, do you?):

In New Zealand, as with the islands, diseases like measles and their worst impact are closely related to poverty, hence the current measles outbreak in New Zealand is mostly confined to places and ethnic populations with the lowest socioeconomic status, like Polynesian people living in South Auckland. Refer here:

Rather than deal with the root causes, our Pacific neighbours must now add expensive vaccines to their list of imports of flour, sugar, and KFC. They have no choice because the horse of disease has already bolted. But once the outbreak has been contained, how about we deal with the root causes? I doubt we'll see any changes. The changes we need aren't good for business: not good for our horticulture industry, and not good for selling highly processed junk foods into the islands.

I don't blame our farmers for this. I blame the economic system that has us trying to compete with countries that care little for worker welfare or their families. We're trapped in a race to the bottom, especially when it comes to agricultural production. For my entire adult life, I have been hearing our leaders telling us workers that we must be more productive. It's never-ending and we're all working harder than ever, and for what? For me, this flogging of the message to improve productivity is code for meaning that we have to work longer and harder for even less than ever.

Healthy, well-nourished individuals within healthy populations get a disease, they resist it, they kill it, and they become even more robust in readiness for the next invader. This isn't the case for Samoa and not for South Auckland.

If we are really serious about promoting good health then we would be doing much more to address poverty in all of its forms - and the exploitation that goes with it. Not just here in New Zealand but also in our Pacific neighbourhood.

For more reading about how to protect your family from measles and other viruses, in addition to vaccination, here's some reading that I have prepared for you:

Currently, there isn't a vaccine for poverty, although Dr Turner implies there is.

Oh, and about the myth that measles can give you immunity amnesia?

Vaccines may be wonderful, but not on their own. Instead of this idea that good health can come from a single technology in isolation of other factors such as malnutrition, overcrowding and poor sanitation is bonkers. It serves only to increase the wealth and power of those who profit from ill health and social inequality.

Here's some more reading on the topic of nutrition in the Pacific Islands:


While Dr. Nikki Turner and other experts advocate for vaccinations to combat measles, it's crucial to recognise that vaccines aren't a panacea. The tragic measles outbreak in Samoa and the ongoing health challenges in New Zealand's impoverished communities underscore the need for a more comprehensive approach to public health.

Addressing fundamental issues like poverty, malnutrition, poor housing, and overcrowding is essential for building true health resilience. By focusing on these root causes, we can create a healthier future for both New Zealand and our Pacific Island neighbours. Only through holistic solutions that integrate improved nutrition and living conditions can we hope to prevent future outbreaks and promote lasting health.

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Gary Moller
Gary Moller
Dec 09, 2019

I do not have a problem with vaccines per se as a health technology but I do have a serious problem with the way it is promoted as if vaccines will solve all our health problems and to the exclusion of all other health measures. Vaccines have their place in disease control but they are not the "Holy Grail" and never will be. They are just one tool of many.

Ignoring the primary reasons why disease runs rampant in populations (stress, malnutrition, poor sanitation etc) while pushing vaccines is just wrong when it comes to improving health.

Like antibiotics, vaccines are being overused and abused while other, supportive measures are being shut out. Simple things like ensuring all children ar…


Gary Moller
Gary Moller
Dec 09, 2019

I received this text message:

Hi Gary, just read your article on Measles in Samoa and would agree on what you have written and thank for speaking about what the majority find hard to accept. 

Just one issue i couldn't work around was KFC as we don't have a KFC branch on island nor do we import it enough if you count (bringing KFC to Samoa as carry on for family and friends) to affect the majority of Samoans. Chicken and Turkey tail yes on the other hand. Its is being imported by the container loads. They bring in so much that chicken is around $2.5 WST per lb ($1.7NZD)

Found this article interesting in regards to imported waste foods.


Dec 01, 2019

You had me up to "vaccines are wonderful." The more than $4 billion awarded in compensation for vaccine injuries in the U.S. says otherwise.


Nov 25, 2019

Excellent article. I feel so bad for indigenous people who cannot realise that vaccines will make them.sicker. the government trying to force vaccines on to all the children is crazy and will see a spike in more deaths and other illness. Healthy Diet and goodsanitation are the most critical factors and without those basics then people are vulnerable to disease.

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