Fiji intensifies COVID-19 response efforts

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Fiji is experiencing a surge in new cases of COVID-19 after almost a year of being COVID-free, with a total of 425 cases reported since the current outbreak started in April 2021.

The Ministry of Health and Medical Services is leading the government’s intensive nationwide campaign to stamp out the virus, quarantining the highest risk areas and scaling up testing to more than 2600 samples per day. All options are being considered to tackle this outbreak.

Fiji, with the advice and support of the World Health Organization (WHO), continues to conduct rigorous contact tracing and cluster investigations while collecting and analyzing a range of data to inform public health decisions. Community disease surveillance has been expanded to enable individuals and local communities to report potential health events to local authorities. Supporting the vulnerable, and those who are in need, while maintaining access to essential medical and social services are integral parts of the government’s response.

The Pacific island nation is also making strides in its COVID-19 vaccination campaign. To date, Fiji has vaccinated 163,364 individuals with their first dose of the vaccine. This is 31% of the target population, which, in Fiji, is people aged 18 and older. Additionally, more than 4,300 individuals, mainly frontline workers vaccinated with the initial supply of COVAX-donated vaccines in March, have now received their second dose and are fully vaccinated. The vaccination programme is expected to accelerate and reach all the divisions and sub-divisions as more vaccines are received from COVAX and pledged donations from the governments of Australia and New Zealand.

Backing up Fijian response efforts are a range of national and international partners providing technical advice, funding and the delivery of life-saving medical equipment and supplies. Below are some examples of the support being provided by these partners.

Support from the World Health Organization

During the pandemic, WHO’s Suva-based emergencies team has been working with the Ministry of Health and Medical Services on a daily basis to ensure that the country’s response is based on the latest data and evidence. While the Ministry is in the driving seat and makes the decisions on the response, they can call upon the advice of WHO staff with expertise in a range of areas including emergency response management, epidemiology, logistics and risk communication.

“WHO and the Ministry of Health and Medical Services have been working together as one team throughout this pandemic,” said acting WHO Representative, Dr Akeem Ali. “ We’ve been impressed with the Ministry’s response and the whole-of-government approach taken to date and we’re proud to stand alongside our Ministry colleagues as they do what’s necessary to protect health and save lives during this crisis.”

During the current surge in cases, WHO’s support has focused on scaling up efforts to rapidly detect, trace and cut off the spread of COVID-19. This includes support for disease surveillance, contact tracing, testing, infection prevention and control, vaccination and the promotion of other protective behaviours. Among other things, WHO has procured machines for the testing of COVID-19, testing kits, personal protective equipment and other medical supplies worth more than USD $ 2.6 million for Fiji since April 2021, which will continue to arrive in the next few months.

From other partners

Neighbours Australia and New Zealand have both been closely involved in the COVID-19 response in Fiji and the Pacific more broadly. The countries join WHO, other United Nations agencies, and the Pacific Community on the Joint Incident Management Team for the Pacific, providing, not only funding, but technical advice to guide the response.

Support for Fiji’s COVID-19 response also comes from governments much farther away, including the European Union and the United Kingdom.

Recently, WHO and the EU have been working together to support Fiji’s efforts to scale up laboratory capacity, including through the procurement of testing equipment and related supplies. The EU is also a key supporter of COVAX, the global initiative led by WHO to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

The United Kingdom also supported the procurement of critical medical supplies to strengthen the health system in Fiji.

What this means for Fiji

As more cases are being detected and investigated in Fiji, a range of public health measures are continually being assessed and implemented by the government. All government departments are working together to consider all possibilities and determine the best options for Fiji at each point of the response to the outbreak. The decisions are based on local context and the expected overall impact on the health of the population, the economy, livelihoods, security and safety, amongst many other factors.

But one thing is clear.

Stamping out COVID-19 requires everyone to play their part – whether that’s the international community, the Ministry of Health and Medical Services or the citizens of Fiji.

“We hope that the almost 900 000 people who call Fiji home know that they have our support,” continued Dr Ali. “We are behind you every step of the way as you continue to stay away from others, wash your hands, wear a mask and seek vaccination.”