The European Union (EU), the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the Pacific Community (SPC) today signed an agreement that will strengthen their existing partnership to support health sector responses to COVID-19 across the Pacific.
This follows the new Financing Agreement the EU and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) signed, to repurpose funding to support the Pacific’s response to COVID-19.
Under the EU-SPC-WFP-WHO agreement, the EU will contribute over USD 24 million (equivalent of EUR 20 million) of the funding repurposed under the EU-PIFS Financing Agreement to support Cook Islands, Kiribati, Fiji, the Republic of Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19. This funding includes WHO’s contribution of over half million USD (equivalent to EUR 448,000) to the implementation of this agreement.
At the signing ceremony in Suva, the EU Ambassador to Fiji and the Pacific, Sujiro Seam, said “in response to COVID-19 in the Pacific, the priorities of the European Union are to address its health and socio-economic impact. The agreement signed today allocates EUR 20 million to strengthen the medical systems of Pacific Island Countries, to allow them to deal not only with COVID-19, but all health challenges.”
Thanking the EU for their contribution, WHO’s Director of Pacific Technical Support Dr Corinne Capuano articulated some of the areas this funding will help to bolster; and its timeliness. “The EU’s support will help strengthen testing capacity, WASH, infection prevention and control, and preparedness for the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines. It comes at a time when PICs are preparing for the arrival of the first allocations of COVID-19 vaccines which are expected in the coming months.”
SPC’s Deputy Director General Dr Paula Vivili said “Supporting national efforts collectively has resulted in proactively developing and implementing regional mechanisms to address the significant impacts of the pandemic in our region, such as the Pacific Humanitarian Pathway on COVID-19. SPC acknowledges PIFS for enabling the repurposing of EU funding towards the COVID- 19 response. SPC will use this funding to support PICTs COVID-19 response through public health surveillance and laboratory services, monitoring and evaluation, strengthening the One-Health approach as well as risk communication”.
Ms Jo Pilgrim, Director of WFP’s Pacific Multi-Country office stated that: “Since mid-2020 the WFP-managed Pacific Humanitarian Air Service has proudly supported the work of Pacific governments, WHO, SPC and other partners to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 through the delivery of crucial medical equipment and supplies. We are grateful to the European Union for its commitment to ensure this vital operation continues to serve our partners in the Pacific throughout 2021.”
The agreement has five main outcomes including: Increased readiness of countries for effective COVID-19 response operations with a special attention to those living in vulnerable situations; strengthened ability to test, detect and monitor for COVID-19 presence in partner countries; reduced risk of spread and excess morbidity and mortality from COVID-19 and other health issues; improved collaboration between environment, animal and public health sectors and an efficient logistics and delivery mechanism for COVID-19 response.
These outcomes are aligned with the Phase 2 COVID-19 Pacific Health Sector Support Plan; and the EU’s support fills a gap in the Plan’s budget, which is focused on stopping or delaying the spread of the virus and mitigating the negative health and socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19.
The plan is led by WHO’s Division of Pacific Technical Support and implemented by the Joint Incident Management Team (JIMT) which includes SPC and WFP along with other multilateral partners working in and with the Pacific who bring resources together to improve the readiness for and response to COVID-19 across 21 Pacific Island countries and areas.
To date, the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu are yet to report a confirmed case of COVID-19. Fiji has gone more than 250 days without reporting a case of COVID-19 in the community. The Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu have occasionally reported cases in travellers arriving from overseas, picked up through border quarantine.