Vanuatu to benefit from Emergency funding support to strengthen Pacific Island countries’ health security response capacity

Agence Française de Développement’ (AFD — the French Development Agency) is providing the Pacific Public Health Surveillance Network (PPHSN) with an EUR 2 million package of emergency financial support, designed to strengthen the epidemic surveillance and response capacity of 12 Pacific Island states and territories in crisis situations such as COVID-19, but also for dengue fever or any other emerging disease.

The 12 countries and territories included in this project are: Vanuatu, Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Wallis and Futuna.

One quarter of the project budget will be specially set aside for Vanuatu, which has not only had to try and return to normal after the damage done by category 5 tropical cyclone Harold in April 2020, but also cope with the threat of COVID-19.

On the basis of experience gained with tropical cyclone Pam in March 2015, and bearing in mind the increased effort required to prepare for and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, the purpose of this support is more specifically to strengthen surveillance, laboratory assistance and support to vulnerable communities in the country.

PPHSN was established in 1996 under the auspices of WHO and SPC, its coordinating agency.

Its priority is diseases with epidemic potential and the network aims to sustainably bolster surveillance and response capacities, including vector control work targeting the Asian tiger mosquito.

Communicable diseases, whose epidemic risk in many cases is exacerbated by the impacts of climate change, is a heavy burden for small Pacific Island countries because of the lack of infrastructure, equipment and qualified staff.

With regard to COVID-19, some 18,671 cases and 162 deaths have so far been recorded in the Pacific Islands. Although the pandemic has not yet spread in an alarming manner in the region, it is essential to provide assistance to these countries and territories in their efforts to stem propagation while strengthening their medium- and long-term capacity to cope better with future risks.

This additional funding will therefore make it possible to continue to develop their preparation, response and adaptation capacities as regards the health effects of climate change, through the establishment of robust public health surveillance systems and a coherent array of services, accessible to all, for the surveillance of emerging diseases in the region.

“Our communicable disease response plan in the region is based on our ability to respond immediately to country needs, while preparing for the future,” explained Paula Vivili, Director of the SPC Public Health Division.

“The novel coronavirus surprised the whole world and the pandemic was able to spread because many countries were not well enough prepared to cope with it. Nobody knows what may happen tomorrow in terms of health, and in a region vulnerable to epidemics, such as the Pacific, we must have infrastructure in place to be able to face any scenario.”

At the project launch, Philippe Renault, the AFD’s Regional Director for the Pacific based in Nouméa, emphasised that this project is “an ongoing strong commitment from AFD, because since its creation in 1996, PPHSN has always enjoyed French support. AFD is today again joining forces with SPC in order to strengthen Pacific Island country capacity in the areas of clinical services, surveillance and laboratory diagnosis, vector control and mitigation of the impacts of natural disasters on marginalised communities, including people with disabilities.”

The project is being implemented in conjunction with PPHSN partners, in parallel with existing projects funded by ’Agence Française de Développement’ (AFD), the Australian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the European Union (EU), the French Pacific Fund (France), the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) and the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC).