WHO, Government of Japan, and Governments of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau partner to enhance COVID-19 preparedness and response

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The World Health Organisation (WHO), the Government of Japan and the Governments of the Republic of Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and the Republic of Palau are partnering together to enhance COVID-19 preparedness and response in the three Pacific island countries.

The Government of Japan is providing US$697,101 funding through WHO with the project focusing on remote and outer islands in the Marshall Islands, FSM and Palau.

The partnership is coming at an opportune time as several Pacific countries and areas are responding to COVID-19 cases and community transmission for the first time. Palau faced a temporary surge of active cases from December 2021 to March 2022, resulting in nearly 4,000 cumulative cases all reported in 2022. While the Marshall Islands has reported only four imported cases in 2020 and FSM has had no cases so far, it is likely that the virus will eventually enter the countries at some point.

This latest partnership builds on two years of COVID-19 preparedness efforts in the Pacific. The Marshall Islands, FSM and Palau heeded WHO’s warnings in early 2020 and, since that time, have been implementing measures including effective border controls, preparing intensive care unit beds and isolation units, and, more recently, rolling out COVID-19 vaccines. However, people living in outer islands in the Pacific are at greater risk if COVID-19 hits due to shortage in health workers, facilities and services in these remote areas and the difficulty in accessing the main islands for these services.

The one-year project will address these urgent needs by strengthening and establishing national emergency medical teams, providing logistics and capacity building support, prepositioning critical equipment and supplies, and engaging with health workers and the communities in the remote islands in Marshall Islands, FSM and Palau.

National emergency medical teams (EMT) are composed of health professionals – such as doctors, nurses, pharmacists, logisticians – that deploy and respond rapidly to sudden onset emergencies or outbreaks. WHO has been supporting and coordinating the EMT initiative across the Pacific with five countries having fully established their own national EMT. The project will fast-track these efforts to launch, train and enhance readiness for deployment of the Marshall Islands Medical Assistance Team (MI-MAT) in the Marshall Islands, KLEMAT in Palau, and four more teams – one for each state – in FSM.

The project will also involve the training of emergency medical teams and health workers in clinical management and infection prevention and control, as well as support technicians and logisticians in emergency preparedness logistics and maintenance. Critical medical equipment and supplies and communication satellite phones will be procured and prepositioned. In addition, risk communication and community engagement will be strengthened to help people to understand how to safely care for mildly ill family members at home.

Dr Mark Jacobs, WHO Representative to the South Pacific and Director of Pacific Technical Support:“Supporting Pacific island countries and areas in preparing for and responding to COVID-19 continues to be a critical area of work for us. As we see increasing cases of COVID-19 in the Pacific, it is all the more important that we enhance these measures to protect people on hard-to-reach outer islands. We thank the Governments of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau for their leadership and the Government of Japan for their contribution to ensure that we save lives.”

Bruce Bilimon, Minister of Health and Human Services, Republic of Marshall Islands: “Marshall Islands has established our national EMT called MI-MAT (Marshall Islands Medical Assistance Team” with support of WHO. We are very proud that MI-MAT has been already deployed for a drought response and we trust this additional support by Japan will boost the team’s capability to prepare for COVID-19 and protect people in our neighbouring islands.”

Marcus Samo, Secretary of Health and Social Affairs, Federates States of Micronesia: “FSM consists of four states in four different islands with many scattered islands, causing significant geographic challenge for emergency response in a timely manner. All States in the nation have established emergency response system, but not full scale EMT program. Through this partnership with Japan and WHO, all of FSM states will level up their preparedness for COVID-19 and other health emergencies.”

Gaafar J. Uherbelau, Minister of Health and Human Services, Republic of Palau: “Palau’s ETM known as KLEMAT, means the rope that holds the sails of our traditional canoes. It signifies good navigation, governance and leadership. As we would like Palau to be fully prepared for another surge of COVID-19 or any other outbreak, I welcome this valued partnership with the Government of Japan and the WHO to make KLEMAT a beacon of hope to safeguard the health and lives or our People. “

Karasawa Akira, Ambassador of Japan to Palau: “The surge of COVID-19 cases in Palau since last December has clearly showed the significance of the emergency operation team of the Ministry of Health and Human Services. I hope this project will contribute to enhancing the capacity of the team furthermore as another showcase of Japan’s assistance to Palau in the medical field.”

Michigami Hisashi, Ambassador of Japan to the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM): “The FSM is one of the few COVID-19 free countries in the world but, it is necessary to prepare for the time when COVID-19 eventually arrives to the FSM. I hope this project will contribute to strengthen the FSM’s medical preparedness based on the outstanding cooperation between Japan and WHO.”

Tanaka Kazunari, Ambassador of Japan to the Republic of the Marshall Islands: “The Republic of the Marshall Islands is one of a few countries that have maintained COVID-19 free condition through strict immigration control measures and promoting vaccination, although the vaccination rate of the outer islands is lower than that of the capital. It is expected that this project, together with the provision of a medical ship by Japan to RMI, will strengthen RMI’s medical services for infectious diseases including COVID-19 in the outer islands.”.

Media Contacts: Lauren O’Connor
Technical Officer (Communications, Resource Mobilisation & External Relations)
WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific – Division of Pacific Technical Support
Telephone: +679 777 9733 Email: oconnorl@who.int

SOURCE: WHO/PACNEWS