The Government of Japan and UNICEF have officially signed a new USD$9 million partnership to strengthen digital health systems in Fiji, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands.

The four Pacific Island countries will receive support for immunisation, including information systems and digital health efforts that will enable monitoring for vaccination coverage down to the individual level.

“On behalf of the Government and people of Japan, it is my honour to formalise with Jonathan Veitch, UNICEF Pacific Representative, the Japanese Government’s Assistance for the Project for “Supporting Digital Health System for Infectious Diseases Control in the Pacific Islands Countries” to expand our role in effectively supporting in managing post-vaccination data collection, digitization, storage and accessibility,” said the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan, Kawakami Fumihiro.

“The creation of such digital health ecosystem ensures that frontline health care workers improve service delivery and quality of primary care. The new system will not only capture COVID-19 vaccination details but it will also be rolled out to include routine immunisation programmes. This project will help to draw lessons from the pandemic for improved surveillance, prevention, response, and protection programs against infectious diseases, and will help to improve health care services.” he said.

UNICEF will provide on-the-ground support, under the leadership of the four countries’ health ministries, to ensure that the immuniSation information systems are well integrated into the digital health ecosystem.

UNICEF will also support the capacity building of healthcare workers to enable them to use the new systems and drive the sustainability of the project.

“This investment will support millions of people in the Pacific region over the next two years. That includes 1,450 healthcare workers at over 550 health facilities across the four countries,” said UNICEF Pacific Representative, Jonathan Veitch. “A strong, digital, immunisation information system is crucial to ensure that children do not miss out on life-saving vaccinations.”

In addition to the signing of the new partnership, the Government of Japan and UNICEF also handed over essential cold chain equipment to the Fiji Ministry of Health and Medical Services Tuesday. This is to support gaps in the continuing COVID-19, as well as routine immunization preparedness and response efforts.

“Hence the grant of USD$2.25million from the Government of Japan to support Digital Health System in particular for Infectious Diseases Control in the Pacific Island Countries (PICs) including Fiji, is a timely one. The project will begin in March 2023 and will be implemented over a period of 24 months in collaboration with the Ministry of Health & Medical Services,” said Minister for Health and Medical Services Dr Ratu Atonio Rabici Lalabalavu.

“The new Walk-in Cold Room that is now installed at the National Vaccine Store will double the storage capacity at national level from 10,000 litres of vaccine storage capacity to 20,000 litres. This is a significant boost to our central vaccine storage capabilities!” he added.

The cold chain equipment handed over will significantly strengthen the national cold chain capacity to manage vaccines at +2oC to +8oC. It will also enable the freezing of water packs to transport the vaccines. In addition, the solar-powered combined refrigerator and freezer will allow for storage of vaccines at +2˚C to +8˚C in the areas without any electricity, or where there is less than eight hours of reliable electricity a day.

“I am also very pleased that, I can hand over additional cold chain equipment, including walk-in cooler, to the Ministry of Health of the republic of Fiji. The walk-in cooler is from the project of “Strengthening Immunization in the Pacific island countries” targeting Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands and Palau,” said Kawakami Fumihiro.

“I must commend the resilience of the people of pacific island countries in the face of the world’s deadliest pandemic in recent memory. The Government and the people have worked hard to get us to where we are now. I am pleased that Japan was able to provide assistance to pacific island countries to help it overcome the COVID-19 pandemic.” he added.