At the time of writing, Samoa is free of COVID-19. Preventative and precautionary measures were implemented early, and continue, to protect this status and the Samoan people. On the heels of the measles outbreak and recovery, which was under control by January 2020, the Ministry of Health (MOH) retained its management structure, the Health Emergency Operations Committee (HEOC), to also manage COVID-19 outbreak preparations.
The WHO, and other agencies, is represented on the HEOC and supports its work. Several initiatives continue including a mass media communications campaign to educate the public on the signs and symptoms of COVID-19, training of the clinical teams on Infection and Prevention Control, Screening and Testing, Isolation and Clinical Management of COVID-19, intensifying Mental Health services given the recent Measles outbreak, and outreach to communities to name a few.
The WHO's COVID-19 support to Samoa also includes an initiative with the Samoa Red Cross Society (SRCS) and the Adventists Disaster Relief Agency (ADRA). It aims to further drill down and intensify public education on COVID-19 and to understand the possible barriers facing the public, communities and households to adopt prevention and care measures. Importantly, it builds on the early COVID-19 sensitization sessions held for approximately 200 Village Chiefs, Mayors, Religious Leaders and Women's Community Group Representatives from the four inhabited Samoan Islands Upolu, Savai'i, Manono and Apolima. These sessions were conducted by the MOH and Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development (MWCSD) in Upolu and Savai'i in March 2020.
As part of the initiative, WHO collaborated with the MOH and SRCS to develop a COVID-19 Training Toolkit to facilitate the delivery of standardised information for sensitization sessions on COVID-19. The Toolkit includes a component on home-based care. These sessions, were delivered at the village level to their Representatives, Religious Leaders and Women's Community Groups, and were conducted by MOH, MWCSD and WHO in May, June and early July.
Currently, the SRCS and ADRA are conducting vulnerability assessments and outreach at the level of the home throughout the villages on all four islands in Samoa. These assessments started in April in Upolu and commenced in Savai'i mid-July with more than 800 families vulnerable to COVID-19 being assessed by the end of June 2020.
On Friday 10 July, the WHO joined the SRCS in Manono and Apolima, two of Samoa's smaller islands, where more assessments were conducted and Hygiene Kit Care Packages and water were distributed to vulnerable families. In July and August the WHO team joined ADRA in Lalomanu Village in Upolu and both ADRA and SRCS in Savai'i to continue the assessments.
WHO Representative, Dr Rasul Baghirov commented on the exercise noting that "leaving no one behind is the main commitment of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It has been important not only to reach out to these two beautiful islands of Samoa - Manono and Apolima - but importantly to identify and support directly it's most vulnerable villagers. WHO is proud to be part of COVID-19 preparedness work in Samoa, spearheaded by the country's leadership".
This initiative complements current and future projects to deliver water tanks to vulnerable households by the government, various development partners and charitable organizations. The South Seas Ministry in Honolulu, Hawai'i is one such entity collaborating with the SRCS in this area and Mrs Tuailemafua Theresa Ulberg, a representative of the organisation was also on the ground to observe the outreach to Manono and Apolima. The vulnerability assessments will be completed in September 2020, along with the implementation of a survey that aims to understand awareness of COVID-19 prevention. Analysis of the data will ensure thereafter, and will guide the next steps.
Mrs. Namulauulu Tautala Mauala, current Secretary General for SRCS in Samoa conveyed her appreciation to the WHO noting that, "this collaborative partnership, financial assistance and technical support by the WHO Office in Samoa, has allowed the SRCS to continue with confidence the engagement of more than 150 villages in Samoa, through individual households, to be well prepared to combat the risks and longer impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic". *She further expressed that, *"we all need to act together to look after each other at this unprecedented moment in history".
The unavailability of clean water for hand-washing, cooking and general hygiene is a barrier to preventing and managing COVID-
19 infection. It is this recognition of the many barriers to prevention and care as well that prompted the WHO's collaboration with the SRCS and ADRA to better understand families' vulnerability to COVID-19 and to assist them with the Hygiene Kit Care Packages.
Dr Rasul Baghirov
WHO Representative for American Samoa, the Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa and Tokelau.
World Health Organization