Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the South Pacific- Part 3. Pacific and International Aid
Author: Dr. Sukheshni Nand (BDS)
Most health systems in the Pacific region are not adequately equipped to respond to major country-wide outbreaks, and Pacific Island countries are also some of the most vulnerable in the world to the effects of climate change and disasters . Pacific Island countries share similar challenges and opportunities as remote island economies. They are small in size with limited natural resources, narrowly-based economies, large distances from major markets, and vulnerable to external shocks, such as COVID-19, all of which can affect growth, impact on poverty and have often led to a high degree of economic volatility .
Therefore, the Pacific Island Nations are responding to the threat of COVID-19 as many children are in danger of missing out on life-saving vaccines against measles and other diseases due to the slowing down or disruptions in immunization services . Last year, over 80 people died from a measles outbreak in Samoa. American Samoa, Fiji, and Tonga also declared measles outbreaks . WHO and UNICEF are calling on and supporting Pacific Island countries and areas to continue routine immunization services where possible, while ensuring the safety of parents and health workers . It was reported on 16 May 2020 that new stock of three antibiotics (cloacillan, ceftrione and piperacilian) that were short in supply have arrived into the country .
Due to the impact of COVID-19 in the Pacific, many individuals are facing financial struggles. Every day people are losing jobs and income, with no way of knowing when normality will return . Small island nations, heavily dependent on tourism, have empty hotels and deserted beaches . The International Labour Organization estimates that 195 million jobs could be lost, globally . Fiji is experiencing similar loss in jobs due to reduced activity in companies. Close to 40,000 people working in the hotel and tourism sector are on leave without pay and reduced hours . About 500 Jacks employees were terminated on 19th May and some staff were yet to get clarification on reduced hourly rate . Similarly, Motibhai had made 200 positions within the company redundant since business activity was not expected to improve until the following year . In addition, 220 Rosie Holidays staff have been laid off, after receiving staff redundancy packages, as the impacts of COVID-19 takes its toll on the company . As of 4 June 2020, William and Goslings have also made 48 employees redundant with a further 50 likely to be affected due to COVID-19 .
To help the citizens through these difficult times, the Fijian Government have announced the second round of COVID-19 unemployment benefits to be paid out in partnership with FNPF, to aid those Fijians whose employers have been severely impacted by this crisis . On 20 May 2020, it was announced that 77,507 FNPF Members had received COVID-19 Relief . The government is said to spend $4 million to fund those FNPF members who have less than $35 in their general accounts. Moreover, as of 2 June 2020, it was reported that FNPF and Government paid out $52.1 million so far for the COVID-19 withdrawal assistance .
As the South Pacific is reeling the effects of the Global Pandemic, to maintain sustained development progress will require long-term cooperation between governments, international development partners and regional organizations . The compounding impacts of COVID-19 and ongoing climate and disaster shocks on Pacific Island countries poses major challenges for the region in 2020 and beyond . International partners such as UNICEF and WHO continue to support Fiji by supplying other medical items to respond to any outbreak of the virus such as surgical masks, swabs, thermometers, testing kits, gloves ,medical gowns and provided 10 tents which will be used as fever clinics . UNICEF in partnership with WHO also assisted health care workers who are in the frontlines, through the distribution of 8,900 N95 respirators to the Fiji Government .
Furthermore, UNICEF has supported the other Pacific Island Nations such as Federated States of Micronesia, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Kiribati to be prepared and respond to any outbreak . This was accomplished by providing an SMS platform, distributing water, providing tents to be used as fever clinics, provided handwashing facilities and soap to schools, health clinics and households, as well as other public facilities as part of a hygiene promotion campaign . They also provided training for Social Welfare officers on managing stress and self-care during the COVID-19 pandemic, along with developing training for awareness outreach in communities . In addition, UNICEF has also supported these Pacific Island Nations by supporting the government in developing learning continuity guidelines for children when at home and developing an education contingency plan to cater for possible school closure .
The World Health Organisation further continues to support Samoa and Tokelau with preparations for COVID-19. Both countries received infrared thermometers to assist with screening at ports of entry and healthcare facilities . They also received personal protective equipment (PPE) which provided Samoa with tremendous relief as they are still recovering from the impact of the 2019 measles outbreak.
Moreover, UNICEF urged Pacific governments to maintain lifesaving services for pregnant women and newborns in the face of COVID-19 since regional containment measures such as lockdowns and curfews and possible supply and equipment shortages, and limited staff with the critical skills needed were limited. Which meant families would need support to access quality medical care to keep their newborns healthy .
The U.S government has also provided its support by announcing its $2.3 million commitment to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in the 12 Pacific Islands countries . Through this assistance, the South Pacific are said to prepare laboratory systems, implement infection prevention and control measures, strengthen port of entry screening, activate case-findings and event-based surveillance, and support rapid response and preparedness .
As Fiji battles against the spread of COVID-19 pandemic, many individuals and organizations have come forward to lend a helping hand. Fiji has received International support through this crisis from numerous countries and organizations in the form of donations (funds, supplies, PPE, etc.) . Some of these supporters include European Union, China, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Macao-Based Chinese company, Australian Defense force, United States of America, Chinese community and Fiji Chinese Federation of Commerce and Industry . Local companies and government services have also provided its services and donations to help deal with the COVID-19 pandemic in Fiji. Various local aid was provided within Fiji to allow the nation battle against COVID-19 and provide the people with relief. FCCC, Fiji Chemicals, Pernix, Methodist church of Fiji, Vodafone, Paradise Beverages, Sathya Sai service, Housing Authority, HFC Bank Westpac, ANZ, BRED Bank, Asian Development Bank, Fiji Corrections services, financial lifeline, TOTAL, Nestle, Ranjit Garment, Sabha, Bondwell, Mobil Oil Fiji, FRIEND, and Various social welfare programs came forward to provide some of these local aids . In addition, USP have also reported to provide 700 tablets to students who do not have learning tool .
Therefore, it is important to recognize that COVID-19 is much more than a health crisis. By stressing every one of the countries it touches, it has the potential to create devastating social, economic and political crisis that will leave deep scars. Dozens of the world’s greatest cities and paradise nations are deserted as people stay indoors, either by choice or by government order. Across the world, shops, theatres, restaurants and bars are either closed or in limited activity. Pacific countries are scaling up efforts to ensure that they are ready and equipped to rapidly detect and respond to the threat of COVID-19.
Therefore, as Fijians welcome news of COVID-19 free Fiji, it is crucial to ensure that health protective measures are still being observed. As mentioned in Part one, to prevent the spread of COVID-19 every individual and community must work hand-in-hand to ensure preventive measures such as proper handwashing, coughing etiquette and social distancing is implemented. Some of the other various methods to reduce the risk of covid-19 is keeping a 2 meter distance from the next person, using alcohol-based hand sanitizers, wearing masks, and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces. A key asset in preparing for such an outbreak is to follow every precaution without causing panic. Thus enabling every nation to not only meet this challenge now but also to transform practices and capacities to respond to crises in the future. The Ministry continues to sensitize the public on how to effectively stop the spread of COVID-1 to ensure gradual scaling back of restrictions in the coming weeks, hence slowly normalizing the state of the nation.
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