Govt. gets $3.6 million grant to improve health

Samoa’s vaccine systems will be boosted to the tune of US$1.4 million (T$3.6 million) courtesy of a Asian Development Bank (A.D.B.) grant to improve the way the health sector work with and use vaccines.

The grant comes in the wake of the measles epidemic that has infected around 5,700 people and claimed at least 83 lives.

The grant agreement between the A.D.B and the Government of Samoa was signed on December 24. 

There may still be additional financing in store for vaccines, up to US$3.7 million for the United Nations Children’s Fund vaccine supply purchasing system.

Samoa has drawn on the funds as part of the regional System Strengthening for Effective Coverage of New Vaccines in the Pacific Project, which is worth US$25.1 million in both grants and loans and is for Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Ministry of Health Director General, Leausa Dr. Take Naseri, said the regional project is a “positive step towards protecting the health of families in Samoa and across the region".

“The consequences of the recent measles epidemic in Samoa have highlighted the need to strengthen immunization programs in the country.”

A.D.B. Health Specialist for the Pacific, Inez Mikkelsen-Lopez, said the project hopes to improve the health sector workforce capacity, and to ensure vaccines are stored, handled and administered properly.

“The other health system priority is to build the capacity across the Ministry of Health,” Ms. Mikkelsen-Lopez added.

“This means in finance, procurement, health information reporting, to ensure vaccines and immunisation delivery is really integrated across the Ministry of Health and not seen as a separate program.”

It is the first time the multilateral bank has funded this kind of programme, and is focused on health systems being financially sustainable that make economic sense, including ensuring countries have the long-term capacity to continue to purchase vaccines as they need them.

She said the A.D.B will also support the Ministry to work with civil society to meet the communities and address vaccine hesitancy, and allay fears or concerns about vaccination.

“Vaccine hesitancy is a very complex issue,” Ms. Mikkelsen-Lopez said.

“With social media, concerns and misinformation can spread a lot faster.”

As well as the regional improvement of systems, the countries are also working with the A.D.B. and United Nations Children’s Fund (U.N.I.C.E.F.) to jointly finance the procurement of three more vaccines for their countries: rotavirus, pneumococcal conjugate, and human papilloma virus (H.P.V.) vaccines.

The vaccines will go a long way to preventing fatal incidences of pneumonia and diarrhoea in children, as well as prevent cervical cancer which is a major cause of premature death of Pacific women. 

U.N.I.C.E.F Pacific Representative Sheldon Yett said partnering with the A.D.B and the Government of Samoa will ensure vaccines reach the people who need them most.

“Vaccines save lives and are vital to protect children against these preventable diseases,” he said. 

Ms. Mikkelsen-Lopez said the new vaccines will only be procured when the vaccine system has been properly strengthened and is ready to handle the new immunisation programmes.

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