How Timor-Leste is dealing with COVID-19 outbreak

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Dili, Timor-Leste - With all-round support from the World Health Organization, Timor-Leste, an island nation of 1.3 million people, has responded swiftly and effectively in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, despite a fragile healthcare system and limited resources.

Even before the first confirmed case in the country, as immediate assistance, WHO prioritized availability of essential medical supplies and testing kits to Timor-Leste. Given the importance of timely and quality testing, WHO provided the National Health Laboratory (NHL) primers and probes to carry out 1,000 COVID-19 tests. PPE, including gloves, gowns, goggles and masks were also made available.

“The support from WHO has been immensely valuable right from the outset. This includes the National Action Plan for COVID-19 preparedness and response, numerous technical guidelines adapted to the Timor-Leste context, laboratory support, training of health workers and surveillance capacity building,” said Bonifácio Maucoli dos Reis, the Vice Minister for Strategic Health Development and Acting Minister of Health.

“The Ministry of Health appreciates the continued support from Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO, South East Asia Region and the WHO Country Office for providing technical expertise, meeting laboratory needs and building the capacity of our health professionals, he said.

Apart from activating the Incident Management System (IMS), WHO Timor-Leste extended support to the Ministry of Health (MoH) in conducting training sessions for health care workers, point of entry staff, emergency responders and rapid response teams. WHO created a web-based COVID-19 surveillance portal and trained national staff in active surveillance and contact tracing.

WHO has facilitated the transformation of a country with no testing capacity, no identified isolation and quarantine facilities and limited surveillance capability to one with in-country testing, functional Covid-19 facilities, staff rapidly trained in infection control and case management, a gradual increase in PPE stocks, capacity for an expanded testing strategy and active surveillance capabilities over a relatively short period of 4-6 weeks.

In addition, WHO conducts rapid independent reviews of national preparedness and quality standards at isolation and quarantine facilities. It provides scientific advice on the use of COVID-19 public health and social interventions and has developed a monitoring and evaluation framework for the national COVID-19 response.

“WHO’s role in supporting the Ministry of Health in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic has been both crucial and exceptional. Their technical guidance has helped mount a faster and more effective response. It also meant that partners can collaborate more efficiently by relying on these guidelines instead of creating new ones,” said Sr Narciso Fernandes, National Director, Policy, Planning and Cooperation.

The costed action plan developed jointly by the MoH and WHO is helping government and partners in estimating and addressing the funding gaps for COVID-19 response.

The country is currently under a State of Emergency, with no new cases reported for over a month now. There have been 24 confirmed cases so far and no deaths. Almost all cases are linked to well defined clusters in government quarantine facilities. The expanded testing strategy in health facilities has not identified any signs of community transmission yet.

“The COVID-19 preparedness and response journey in Timor-Leste is far from over, but it is immensely gratifying that the push and persistence from WHO, the technical and logistical support and inputs from the Regional Office and our Headquarters in Geneva have helped us respond effectively and efficiently,” said Dr Rajesh Pandav, WHO representative to Timor-Leste.