Public health expert warns Pacific to be prepared

Public health expert, Dr, Colin Tukuitonga, says Samoa and other Pacific Islands will have to be ready to spend massive sums of money on continuing to isolate passengers and an eventual vaccine against the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite a public health win for the Pacific after its efforts to keep the virus out, the economic devastation wrought by border closures and job losses will be ongoing, he said in a panel this week.

It will mean a lot of planning ahead for small countries which will need to fund and deliver vaccinations against the virus when it becomes available, and likely continue to pay for returnees to isolate for some time.

“The big question of course is what happens next. There is a lot we don’t know about the natural history of this thing so there is some learning still to be had before we can determine additional specific responses needed,” Dr. Tukuitonga said. 

But from a public health perspective, the Pacific is standing on good foundations. 

With lessons learned from several previous epidemics or threats of, each country has a thorough preparedness plan that Dr. Tukuitonga says has him optimistic.

These plans include the human resources and skillsets required to handle a disease outbreak, the degree of testing or public health measures needed and importantly the communication measures.

One thing the region could benefit from is a regional COVID-19 plan, however.

“I do think there is a need for the Pacific region to agree on a regional plan of some description because as long as there is COVID-19 anywhere in the world no one is safe.

“There are multiple scenarios [of how long it will last] and it’s true to say we don’t really know what might happen but it may well be is that we have to learn how to live with it.”

Dr. Tukuitonga is the Associate Dean Pacific in the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, and until recently was the Director General of the Pacific Community. 

He was speaking on a panel discussion on One Health, how a healthy environment can mean healthy humans. It was the final panel in a series of discussions hosted by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme on Transitioning to a Post Pandemic Pacific.

Bg pattern light


Subscribe to Samoa Observer Online

Enjoy access to over a thousand articles per month, on any device as well as feature-length investigative articles.

Ready to signup?