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AFD is providing emergency funding to help 12 Pacific island countries and territories monitor and respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. The support will also boost the region’s ability to cope with other health crises and emerging diseases, like dengue fever.

Set up in 1996 under the aegis of WHO and the Pacific Community (SPC), the Pacific Public Health Surveillance Network (PPHSN) aims to increase the capacity of countries in Oceania to monitor and respond to epidemic crises. This is a priority in a region where the epidemic risk of communicable diseases is exacerbated by the effects of climate change. It is a heavy burden due to the lack of infrastructure, equipment and qualified staff.

Coping with Covid-19 

To date, there have been 16,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Pacific island countries with 139 deaths. While the pandemic has not spread at an alarming rate, it is essential to help these countries and territories curb it, while increasing their medium and long-term capacity to address future risks.

Further reading: Working For Health Surveillance in the Pacific

This is why AFD provided additional financing to the PPHSN network on 17 November 2020. The €2 million will contribute to further developing the capacity to prepare for, respond and adapt to the effects of climate change on health in the region. It will involve setting up robust public health surveillance mechanisms and a coherent range of services, accessible to all, to monitor emerging diseases.

Responding to the emergency and preparing the future 

“Our response plan to communicable diseases in the region is based on our capacity to meet the immediate needs of countries, while preparing the future”, says Dr. Paula Vivili, Director of the Public Health Division at SPC. “The new coronavirus has taken the whole world by surprise and the pandemic has spread because many countries weren’t sufficiently prepared to deal with it. No one knows what tomorrow holds in terms of health and in a region vulnerable to epidemics like the Pacific; we need to have infrastructure in place to deal with all eventualities.” 

In the short term, these additional funds will be primarily earmarked to supply equipment to health facilities in the region, as Christelle Lepers, from the Public Health Division of SPC, said on France Info: “We’re on hand to supply equipment such as respirators and oxygen. We’re also going to supply personal protective equipment to hospital staff [...] and some more equipment to laboratories, such as PCR equipment to test the population.” 

A quarter of the project dedicated to Vanuatu

A quarter of the project budget will be specifically dedicated to Vanuatu, which has to both get things back to normal following category 5 tropical cyclone Harold in April 2020 and cope with the threat of Covid-19. Based on the experience of tropical cyclone Pam in March 2015, and in view of the increased efforts needed to prepare for and respond to the pandemic, this funding specifically aims to strengthen surveillance and laboratory assistance and support vulnerable populations in the country.

For Philippe Renault, AFD’s Regional Director for the Pacific Ocean in Nouméa, these new funds are part of the ongoing commitment of AFD, which has been supporting PPHSN from the beginning. “AFD is today once again working with SPC to strengthen Pacific countries in the fields of clinical services, infection prevention and control, communication on risks, surveillance and laboratory diagnoses, vector control and the mitigation of the effects of natural disasters on marginalized communities, including people with disabilities.”  

The project is jointly implemented with partners from PPHSN, alongside existing projects financed by AFD: Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), European Union, Pacific Fund (France), New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).