W.H.O. applauds Pacific solidarity in face of pandemic

By Soli Wilson 05 January 2021, 10:10AM

As the new year begins, the World Health Organisation’s (W.H.O.) Regional Director for the Western Pacific is encouraging COVID-19 contained countries across the Pacific region to remain vigilant.

Dr. Takeshi Kasai said he has been specifically proud of the spirit of solidarity among countries in the region in the past year while undergoing efforts to guard against the effects of the global pandemic.

These range from technical exchanges between countries on issues such as laboratory testing and clinical management, to working together in joint incident management teams, and commitments to support equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

He highlighted that it is time to reflect on 2020 lessons for a better 2021.

"Compared to other parts of the world, the Western Pacific Region has been comparatively fortunate," he said in a statement released on Monday. 

"Although the region’s 37 countries and areas are home to more than a quarter of the world’s population, they have reported just 1 per cent of globally confirmed cases to date. 

"Most countries have avoided the so-called ‘red line’, or the point where critical care needs surpass health care capacity, large numbers of healthcare workers are infected, service quality declines, and deaths rapidly increase."

Dr. Kasai noted that the pandemic has shone a light on the importance of long term investments within countries.

Dr. Kasai noted that the pandemic has shone a light on the importance of long term investments within countries.

"Clearly, long term investment is critical. Countries in the region have spent more than a decade preparing for events with pandemic potential, by strengthening their health systems in anticipation of an event like the COVID-19 pandemic," he said.

"Countries that have successfully controlled COVID-19 had a very strong public health plan to manage positive cases. Most countries were able to scale up the right mix of public health interventions at the right time, to avoid health systems being totally overwhelmed."

In the Pacific are some of the last few remaining countries in the world yet to record a positive case of COVID-19; but each continues to prepare their health systems for the possibility of an outbreak. 

He noted that strong public health measures, proactive communications with their public, combined with border closures and stringent border quarantine measures, have slowed or stopped the spread of COVID-19. 

Dr. Kasai also acknowledged the importance of open communication of public information in relation to the pandemic, saying he had been particularly impressed with the communication in Singapore, New Zealand and Vietnam.

"Communication from trusted sources including governments, healthcare workers and scientists has also been so important – for establishing and sustaining social norms around protective behaviours, and building community support for public health measures," he said.

"I have also observed in many countries, a strong community commitment to protecting the most vulnerable.

"Countries in the Region really have come together, borne out of a recognition that no country is safe until every country is safe."

Most of the world’s COVID-19 free countries are Pacific Island nations including American Samoa, Tokelau, Palau, Micronesia, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Samoa and Tonga.

Fiji and New Caledonia, which reported cases of COVID-19 in the community earlier in 2020, have now gone more than 240 days without reporting a case of COVID-19 outside of border quarantine.

"Of course, none of the things I have described are unique to the Western Pacific Region. But they came together in 2020 in a unique way – sparing us from the scale of devastation that we are currently sadly seeing in other parts of the world," the Regional Director said.

"But this is obviously no time to be complacent: the pandemic is far from over, and how COVID-19 evolves in 2021 depends on all of us: our individual and collective actions will determine the course that the pandemic takes next."


By Soli Wilson 05 January 2021, 10:10AM

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