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UK signs MoU with WHO, strengthening readiness and response to COVID-19 across the Pacific

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The Government of the United Kingdom (UK) of Great Britain and Northern Ireland represented by the British High Commission, Suva, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the World Health Organization (WHO), represented by the WHO Representative Office for the South Pacific/Division of Pacific Technical Support. This marks the start of a partnership between the UK and WHO in the Pacific, which will support continued readiness for and a strengthened response to COVID-19 across the Pacific.

George Edgar, British High Commissioner to Fiji said “COVID-19 is a challenge for the whole world and the UK is determined to do everything we can to support the global community in its response. That’s why we are giving up to £500m in aid funding to the COVAX vaccines procurement pool, to help poorer countries access a coronavirus vaccine when one is developed. And it’s why we’re especially pleased to partner with WHO in supporting the response in the Pacific region. This vital funding amounting to an additional £1.8 million will provide critical assistance and build on the good work already underway to strengthen COVID-19 preparedness and response capacity across eleven Pacific Island countries.”

Twenty-five percent of the funding will be used to support WHO in Papua New Guinea, who under the COVID-19 Response Plan for Papua New Guinea, work closely with government and partners to effectively contain, respond to and manage local transmission, and to minimize the health impacts of COVID-19

Thanks to rapid action by Pacific Island countries and areas, the Pacific includes the only remaining countries in the world without imported or locally acquired cases of COVID-19, and most of those that have had cases, have kept numbers relatively low. However, as long as the virus is circulating, all countries remain vulnerable and widespread community transmission can still occur in the Pacific, unless strong prevention, control and treatment measures are in place. The UK is therefore providing funding for critical medical equipment to contain and mitigate the virus across the Pacific. The World Health Organization will provide technical support related to the use of this equipment.

WHO’s Regional Director for the Western Pacific Dr Takeshi Kasai expressed gratitude for the UK’s support: “WHO very much appreciates the generous support of the United Kingdom to help ensure Pacific Island countries are equipped with the medical equipment they need to respond to COVID-19, including complex cases.”

Under the MoU, WHO will use the £1.8 million to procure critical medical equipment such as ventilators, patient monitoring systems with ECG monitors and/or portable X-ray machines for Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

To date, the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu have had no confirmed cases of COVID-19. Fiji has gone more than 200 days without reporting a case of COVID-19 in the community. The Republic of the Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu have occasionally reported cases in travellers arriving from overseas, picked up through border quarantine.

This support fills a gap in the Phase 2 COVID-19 Pacific Health Sector Support Plan (focused on containment and mitigation). The plan is led by WHO’s Division of Pacific Technical Support and implemented by the Joint Incident Management Team (JIMT) comprised of bilateral and multilateral partners working in and with the Pacific.

Through the JIMT, WHO coordinates with partners to bring together resources and improve the readiness of countries and areas across the Pacific[1] to delay the spread of the virus and mitigate the negative health and socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19. This includes providing training and technical guidance on critical preparedness, readiness and response actions for COVID-19; working with stakeholders to ensure a whole-of-society response; procuring critical laboratory and medical supplies needed to test and treat cases, and personal protective equipment needed to protect health workers; and communicating with the public and engaging with communities on how to protect themselves and others, especially the vulnerable and those at highest risk.