Pacific steps up preparedness against COVID-19


In the Pacific, countries are scaling up efforts to ensure that they are ready and equipped to rapidly detect and respond to the threat of novel coronavirus, newly named COVID-19.

As of 21 February 2020, no confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported in any Pacific Island country or area. However with the virus spreading globally all efforts are being made to ensure that countries are prepared and ready to respond, in the instance a case is detected.

Working hand in hand with Pacific Island health officials, the World Health Organisation in the Pacific has ramped up its work in coordinating humanitarian and development partners in a Joint Incident Management (IMT). based in its WHO office in Suva, Fiji, in order to provide strategic support to the region.

“WHO in the Pacific is pulling in resources with different areas of expertise, repurposing many of our staff in order to provide timely support.” says Dr Corinne Capuano, WHO Director of Pacific Technical Support and Representative to the South Pacific, “we are working with governments and partners around the clock, making sure that our preparedness and response plan is strategic, well-coordinated and timely”.

The COVID-19 Joint IMT, coordinated by WHO in the Pacific, has developed and are implementing a six-month Pacific Action Plan for 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Preparedness and Response.

Under this plan, partners are coordinating activities so as to best leverage their respective resources and capacities to help ensure the region is getting the expert guidance and supplies needed to strengthen their health emergency preparedness.

The Joint IMT is currently helping to address critical supply needs for countries including procurement of laboratory packaging and personal protective equipment (PPE) and providing technical advice on a range of public health measures, including active surveillance and screening at points of entry; identifying appropriate isolation and quarantine facilities; providing trainings on infection prevention and control; running simulation exercises for health care providers on the appropriate use of the PPE; developing the case management protocols; and strengthening communications to raise public awareness and counter rumors and misinformation.

The Joint IMT includes representatives from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), Pacific Community (SPC) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Through the IMT, close coordination is also ongoing with key partners, including: The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), International Organisation for Migration (IOM), Pacific Island Health Officers’ Association (PIHOA) and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“New Zealand is working closely with our Pacific partners to prevent the virus from spreading, and to protect New Zealanders and our Pacific Island neighbours. We remain very aware that New Zealand is one of the major gateways to the Pacific.” Says the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of New Zealand, “We are in daily contact with Pacific Island Governments, sharing with them our Ministry of Health information and advice, along with our internal planning and procedures. We have also placed a New Zealand liaison officer at the WHO Pacific office as part of the Incident Management Team.”

WHO urges the public to obtain the latest information on COVID-19 from reliable sources, including WHO and national health authorities, and always follow the basic recommended measures to help protect themselves from many infectious diseases, including COVID-19.

The WHO Information Network for Epidemics (EPI-WIN) is targeting tailored information for health care, travel and tourism, business, food and agriculture sectors and is planning to expand audiences over the coming weeks.

Rose Aynsley
Communications Officer
Telephone: +679 323 4127
Mobile: +679 759 3470