Agreement signed to boost COVID-19 response

The European Union, World Health Organisation, United Nations World Food Programme and the Pacific Community have signed an agreement that will focus on strengthening their existing partnership to support health sector responses to COVID-19 across the Pacific.

The agreement was signed on the 25 January in Suva, Fiji and follows a new financing agreement the E.U. and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (P.I.F.S.) signed to repurpose funding to support the Pacific’s response to the coronavirus.

The announcement was made in a statement issued by the Suva-based S.P.C. this week. 

Under the multilateral agreement, the E.U. will contribute over US$24 million of the funding repurposed under the E.U. and the P.I.F.S. financing agreement to support Cook Islands, Kiribati, Fiji, the Republic of Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu mitigate the impacts of COVID-19.

This funding includes the W.H.O. contribution of US$500,000 to the implementation of this agreement.

During the signing ceremony, the E.U. Ambassador to Fiji and the Pacific, Sujiro Seam, said that in response to COVID-19 in the Pacific, the priorities of the European Union are to address its health and socio-economic impact.

“The agreement signed today allocates EUR $20 million to strengthen the medical systems of Pacific Island Countries, to allow them to deal not only with COVID-19, but all health challenges,” he added.

The W.H.O. Director of Pacific Technical Support, Dr. Corinne Capuano acknowledged the contribution from E.U. and articulated some of the areas this funding will help to bolster; and its timeliness.

“The E.U.’s support will help strengthen testing capacity, WASH, infection prevention and control, and preparedness for the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines.

“It comes at a time when [Pacific Island Countries] PICs are preparing for the arrival of the first allocations of COVID-19 vaccines which are expected in the coming months.”

Furthermore, the S.P.C. Deputy Director General Dr. Paula Vivili relayed that supporting national efforts collectively has resulted in proactively developing and implementing regional mechanisms to address the significant impacts of the pandemic in our region, such as the Pacific Humanitarian Pathway on COVID-19.

“S.P.C. acknowledges P.I.F.S. for enabling the repurposing of E.U. funding towards the COVID- 19 response. 

“S.P.C. will use this funding to support P.I.C.T.s COVID-19 response through public health surveillance and laboratory services, monitoring and evaluation, strengthening the One-Health approach as well as risk communication.”

The Director of W.F.P.’s Pacific Multi-Country office, Jo Pilgrim, added that: “Since mid-2020 the W.F.P.-managed Pacific Humanitarian Air Service has proudly supported the work of Pacific governments, W.H.O., S.P.C. and other partners to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 through the delivery of crucial medical equipment and supplies.

“We are grateful to the European Union for its commitment to ensure this vital operation continues to serve our partners in the Pacific throughout 2021.”  

The agreement has five main outcomes including: Increased readiness of countries for effective COVID-19 response operations with a special attention to those living in vulnerable situations; strengthened ability to test, detect and monitor for COVID-19 presence in partner countries; reduced risk of spread and excess morbidity and mortality from COVID-19 and other health issues; improved collaboration between environment, animal and public health sectors and an efficient logistics and delivery mechanism for COVID-19 response.

These outcomes are aligned with the Phase 2 COVID-19 Pacific Health Sector Support Plan; and the E.U.’s support fills a gap in the Plan’s budget, which is focused on stopping or delaying the spread of the virus and mitigating the negative health and socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19.

The plan is led by W.H.O.’s Division of Pacific Technical Support and implemented by the Joint Incident Management Team (JIMT) which includes S.P.C. and W.F.P. along with other multilateral partners working in and with the Pacific who bring resources together to improve the readiness for and response to COVID-19 across 21 Pacific Island countries and areas.

To date, the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu are yet to report a confirmed case of COVID-19. Fiji has gone more than 250 days without reporting a case of COVID-19 in the community. The Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu have occasionally reported cases in travellers arriving from overseas, picked up through border quarantine. 

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