As Covid-19 spreads around the world, communities in the Pacific are desperately preparing to respond to the imminent threat of the pandemic.
The Pacific Islands are already heavily exposed to natural disasters – cyclones, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, floods and landslides are all too common. Their weaker health systems and frequent lack of basic services like running water and good sanitation facilities only put our neighbouring countries in greater danger.
“The relative isolation of Pacific island countries and territories, combined with limited resources makes the Pacific extremely vulnerable during a global pandemic, and any wide scale local outbreak will put additional pressure on health care systems.” said Sheldon Yett, UNICEF Pacific Representative.
Trying to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in remote villages where there is no soap or safe water is a daunting task. A third of children in the Pacific don’t have access to good sanitation, but UNICEF is doing all we can to help prepare Pacific communities so that they are ready.
So far, we’ve provided around 200,000 N95 respirators, surgical masks, swabs, thermometers, testing kits, gloves and medical gowns to frontline health workers, as well as training for these essential workers on how to detect and manage Covid-19 cases in children and pregnant women.
Kelera Kanabicibici, Acting Team Leader of Public Health Nakasi Health Centre and her colleague standing front of a UNICEF-provided fever clinic tent. More than 20 fever clinics have been set up around Fiji to screen people for possible COVID-19.
Tents have been delivered to Fiji, Vanuatu and Micronesia which will be used as clinics to safely treat Covid-19 patients in isolation, and handwashing facilities have been rapidly constructed at the main hospitals in Kiribati.
Unfortunately, the difficulty and expense in transporting supplies is even more pronounced for small Pacific nations. Flights are scarce and costly, and border closures increase the complexity in reaching isolated communities with essential supplies. But UNICEF won’t give up.
On 5th April 2020, Fiji Airways and UNICEF Pacific transported 11.1 tonnes of supplies to help fight Covid-19 on a freight flight from Sydney.
A recent partnership with Fiji Airways saw 11.1 tonnes of vital medical equipment and temperature screening tents transported from Sydney, Australia back to Fiji to be distributed around other Pacific Island countries in the fight against the virus.
In island countries like Kiribati and the Federated States of Micronesia, many families reside in hard to reach areas – sometimes only accessible by a long boat journey. For these communities, accurate and up-to-date public health information is critical, so they know how to protect themselves from the spreading pandemic. That’s why UNICEF has provided a SMS platform that reaches 75,000 people with two text messages a day on how to best prevent Covid-19. This information is a lifeline for the many families living without access to an internet connection.
Along with safety equipment and public health information, we’re continuing our critical work of providing safe water, sanitation services and hygiene supplies (WASH) to families in remote communities.
Children from Natawa Primary School in Tavua, Fiji, show their recent handwashing lesson.
For the past five years UNICEF NZ, in partnership with New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, have been providing clean water, hand-washing facilities and toilets to schools in Kiribati, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands. Schools in these areas are now in a stronger position to be able to mitigate the risks of Covid-19.
Unfortunately, many schools have also faced closures, but just as Kiwi kids adapted to learning in online classrooms during New Zealand’s lockdown, education cannot stop for school children in the Pacific. Together with local governments, UNICEF has helped to develop and broadcast school lessons via the internet, television and radio while schools have been closed.
“I have visited UNICF projects in the Pacific for ten years and come into contact with many communities over the years, I always noticed how resilient they are to shocks and how well they pull together in difficult times.” Said Hamish Lindsay, UNICEF NZ’s Acting International Development Manager. “Our supported projects are continuing and adapting through the pandemic, and it has been great to see Governments prioritising our water, sanitation and hygiene projects as a preparedness measure for potential outbreaks.”