Vanuatu_webThree public health experts from the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) will head to Port Vila and Pentecost Island this weekend to support Vanuatu’s Ministry of Health with the surveillance, diagnosis and response to diseases with epidemic potential and other public health emergencies.

SPC will initially deploy two epidemiologists and one laboratory specialist, following a request from the Vanuatu Government and the World Health Organisation (WHO) for assistance over the next two months.

“We’re very pleased to lend a technical helping hand to our Vanuatu colleagues in close collaboration with our partners from WHO and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs,” the Deputy Director of SPC’s Public Health Division, Dr Yvan Souares, said.

“Our specialists will be rostered to provide epidemiology and laboratory support in shifts of two to three weeks to ensure a constant presence in both Port Vila and Pentecost over the next two months,” Dr Souares said.

Both epidemiologists – Dr Paul White and Jojo Merilles – will be based in Pentecost (Panama Province) for the next three weeks. They will be in charge of supporting the establishment and implementation of Early Warning and Response Operations for diseases with epidemic potential, such as malaria and measles, as well as emerging diseases and any communicable diseases in general.

Vijesh Lal, an SPC laboratory specialist, will be based in Port Vila for an initial shift of two weeks. He will help assess the health laboratory needs and rapid diagnosis of diseases with epidemic potential or other public health importance, at the two reference hospitals in Port Vila.

Recent estimates by SPC’s Statistics for Development Division, in conjunction with Vanuatu’s National Statistics Office, showed that prior to tropical cyclone Pam, of the total projected population of 14,280 Ni-Vanuatu children under two years of age, 68 per cent (9,960 children) had not had a measles vaccination. See the PRISM website.

In response to a potential measles outbreak, the Ministry of Health and its Health Cluster partners, such as UNICEF, have stepped up immunisation campaigns for children under five years of age in Port Vila and other areas, such as Tanna.

Substantial achievements have already been attained. According to UNICEF, from an estimated target of 10,000 children (aged under five) in Port Vila, 8,707 had received one shot of measles, polio and tetanus vaccines as of yesterday (26 March 2015).

As the principal technical and scientific organisation supporting development priorities in the Pacific region, SPC will be standing by its members impacted by tropical cyclone Pam for the long haul. More details of SPC’s comprehensive response in conjunction with its member governments, development partners and fellow CROP agencies.

Media contact:

Christelle Lepers, Surveillance Information and Communication, SPC Public Health Division: Email [email protected], tel +687 260181 or 842837