SPC is the Pacific’s scientific and technical organisation supporting PICTs preparedness and responses to COVID-19 through public health surveillance, infection prevention and control, risk communication, disaster management, humanitarian response, statistics, educational assessment, data custodianship and GIS mapping.
Recognizing no single agency has the capacity and resources to provide the full range of services to support PICTs with their COVID-19 preparedness and response warranted a collective and coordinated response. As such, WHO established the Pacific COVID-19 Joint Incident Management Team (JIMT) whereby several key agencies deployed and embedded their staff in the JIMT team based in Suva, Fiji. JIMT partner membership now totals 19 agencies.
Being based in Suva, Fiji, I am SPC’s embedded member to the JIMT with the responsibility of the coordinating the Public Health Divisions technical and resource support to JIMT. SPC, as the Council of Regional Organisations in the Pacific (CROP) lead in public health, has taken all necessary measures to support PICTs in their planning and response efforts to mitigate against the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the JIMT I have
continuously advocated for sustainable and viable solutions for COVID-19 response and preparedness through the lens of a Pacific Islander who has an appreciation of the cultural, social, political and organisational realities, any proposed solutions must be rooted in Pacific contextual realities.
A unique value add SPC brings to JIMT are its staff are Pacific Island nationals who have been previously employed by Pacific governments, as Secretaries of Health, Directors of Medical Services, Directors of Nursing, Directors of Public, Laboratory Managers SPC’s Public Health Division’s areas of work include:
Infection prevention control (IPC)
– Development of IPC COVID-19 resources, guidelines and posters for countries to use.
– Webinars (training) on these guidelines and posters
– Emphasis on the rational use of Personal protective equipment (PPE)
Clinical services and ICU
– ICU infrastructure support to countries, procuring medical equipment such as ventilators, monitors, training manikins
– Webinars (training) clinical services and ICU
– Workforce, remote nursing support, secured 114 placements for Pacific nurses in theonline post graduate certificate in critical care.
– Development of guidelines around clinical services and ICU around COVID-19
– Webinars (training)
– Development of guidelines for testing equipment/kits
– Procuring of testing kits to countries
– Development of guidelines for border control and quarantine
Surveillance and Epidemiology
– Webinars (training)
– Development of guidelines and algorithms for contact tracing, surveillance case definitions, case managements, SOPs, lab testing criteria’s,
– Production and dissemination of weekly disease alert map in the Pacific
– Ongoing assessment of epidemiology and surveillance of PICTs
– Conducted COVID-19 surveillance need assessments for countries
– Supporting country requests for risk communications (Yap and Vanuatu)
– Assisting JIMT with development of risk communications materials
Bringing together 19 agencies under a single platform has been no mean feat, I recognize the leadership of Dr Corinne Capuano, WHO, WR, Fiji in advocating for the JIMT’s establishment and allowing it the space for it to grow despite the many challenges we have encountered throughout. The challenges shared provide only a snapshot, these include different; organizational mandates, priorities, procurement and financial rules, agency reporting obligations, varying country coverage.
On reflection, what has been heartening is the abundance of goodwill amongst JIMT representatives to work through and resolve the many challenges and obstacles we found ourselves in and will continue arise. This is is attributed in my view, to the recognition that the ultimate beneficiaries of the JIMT’s work are the Pacific countries we serve.
PICTs ability to undertake laboratory testing for COVID-19 is a critical diagnostic tool to support countries protect its population as well as manage and treat confirmed COVID-19 cases. Despite the global shortage for COVID-19 laboratory equipment and consumables, through the JIMT and generous support of Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands Health Officers Association, WHO and SPC, the Pacific continues to receive its supply of testing cartridges. The gold standard for testing novel disease outbreaks remains Real Time PCR, prior to COVID-19, only 5 PICTs (French Polynesia, Fiji, Guam, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea) had RT-PCR testing capacity. Since the COVID-19 pandemic 3 PICTs (Palau, Solomon Islands, Tonga) have managed to establish RT-PCR testing capacity. Through support from Australia, China, Korea, New Zealand, Taiwan, USA, 10 PICTs (American Samoa, CNMI, Cook Islands, FSM, Samoa, Tuvalu, Vanuatu) are in the process of setting up RT-PCR testing. The efforts to secure a steady supply of testing cartridges and increase in the number of PICTs with access to RT-PCR is testament to the coordinated and collective work pursued by JIMT agencies and partners.
It has not been an easy undertaking; however, it has been a privilege and honour to contribute in a very small way with these efforts which will ultimately support PICTs COVID-19 response and beyond.