Hope on the horizon - but we must maintain momentum

The last 20 months since the global pandemic of COVID-19 was declared have been difficult for many. While in Vanuatu we have been spared the misery of lost lives, sickness and major shutdowns that have afflicted billions worldwide, it has been far from easy for us.

Many have lost jobs, income, staff, businesses, education opportunities and our freedom to travel overseas or return.

Despite our best efforts, there have been unseen health impacts due to the pandemic, some of which are just starting to surface. We have turned inward and weathered the storm, proving our resilience and supporting one another.

There is hope on the horizon. We are now in a very different situation to when we shut our borders to international travelers 614 days ago.

The health team have worked tirelessly with other sectors such as border security, police, and hotels to support a robust quarantine system that has successfully managed 7,761 people.

Since the first COVID-19 case reached our shores in November 2020, we have successfully contained a further four cases – including two repatriates with the Delta variant.

There was also the case of the COVID-19 positive person whose body washed up on our shores earlier this year.

From these 5 cases in quarantine and the deceased body, there was no onward transmission of COVID-19. This proved that the protections and systems we have set in place are working.

We have ramped up our surveillance capacity, with contact tracing teams ready for rapid deployment in the event of any COVID-19 cases.

A new Outbreak Alert System indicates risk levels of COVID-19 and guides public and business responses nationwide based on the level.

Business have been trained to put in place the measures needed at each alert level, such as visitor registers and social distance restrictions. Vila Central Hospital is now set up to manage COVID-19 patients, with work ongoing to improve this.

Lab capacity for COVID-19 testing has been increased in the capital and will be soon available in other provinces.

This week the government announced a further injection of funds to strengthen COVID-19 and health services throughout Vanuatu.

With over 15,000 laboratory tests conducted since March 2020 on people from Vanuatu arriving to Australia and New Zealand, we can be confident and proud of the absence of COVID-19 cases in our community.

Without a doubt, we are in a far better position to cope with COVID-19 than we were 20 months ago.

Vaccination is a game-changer for our level of readiness. With over 7.7 billion doses administered worldwide, it is clear that vaccines prevent severe disease, hospitalization and death from COVID-19.

Due to the largest health operations ever conducted in Vanuatu, over half (55%) of our adults nationwide have now received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and over a quarter (26%) have had two and are fully vaccinated.

This has been possible due to the trust and support of the government, community leaders and the public, and through the diligence and stamina of frontline health workers and support staff.

UN agencies, bilateral partners, NGOs, CSOs and the private sector are acknowledged for their valuable technical, financial and logistics support.

But we are not done yet.

There is still a way to go until we reach the targets announced by the Honourable Prime Minister of 90% of adults with a first dose and 70% of adults fully vaccinated by 20 March 2022.

As we track towards this target it is essential that we maintain momentum, motivation, and support.

We reject the projections released recently by Lowy Institute indicating that high coverage in Vanuatu will be possible only by 2026.

This inaccurate projection underscores how critical it is to listen only to reliable information. No one knows the health situation in Vanuatu better than the Ministry of Health.

We continue to urge the public to turn to official sources of information such as www.covid19.gov.vu and the 119 Health Information Hotline, with updates provided on the Health Promotions Vanuatu Facebook page.

Together, we can meet the vaccination targets.

This offers a clear ray of hope on the horizon for the economic recovery needed — but the health of every child, woman and man in this nation remains paramount.

Every person has a role to play in stepping forward to be vaccinated if they have not yet done so, and to actively prevent the spread of inaccurate information and rumours.

It is through this commitment to our communities and to each other that we will continue to espouse the traditional Melanesian values, faith in God and Christian principles set out in the Constitution of this great nation.

Dr. Posikai Samuel Tapo is the Acting Director General of Vanuatu’s Ministry of Health

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