In-country COVID-19 testing for 17 Pacific Island countries expected soon

Regional and global partners are collaborating to ensure the availability of in-county testing abilities for the coronavirus COVID-19 in seventeen Pacific Island Countries.

According to the Director of the Public Health Division of the Pacific Community (SPC) Paula Vivili, only five countries currently are able to offer in-country testing.

These countries are Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, New Caledonia and Papua New Guinea

“Before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, a joint Incident Management Team (IMT), led by WHO was set-up. It allows all the partners (UN agencies, NGOs and donors) involved in the response to coordinate the support provided to countries. Anything a country needs that comes through one of the partners is channelled to the IMT in order to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that we can provide an appropriate response,” Vivili said in an interview.

“For example, on the lab services: our team is involved in a small multi-partner group of experts within the IMT (the Lab Advisory Group). We are hopeful that the group will be able to provide, in the next two weeks or so, all our members will have the capacity to do in-country testing for COVID-19. We hope to achieve that by using a machine which is already available in the countries for tuberculosis testing: the company that created the machine has also been able to create cartridges to test for COVID-19. These cartridges have been approved by the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) in the United States and the Australian health authorities.”

The seventeen PICs have been sending samples overseas for testing.

“However, with the current travel restrictions, their capacity to send test samples abroad is quite limited. This has implications: we’re trying to address the disease, but we’re not able to test locally,” Vivili said.

He has urged Pacific islanders to be alert and cautious and not panic.

“If people do not come in contact with the virus, there is no chance that they will be unwell. Therefore, a lot of measures that have been implemented with the objective of preventing people from being exposed to the virus. We talk a lot about social distancing. It means keeping a distance between you and others.”

Vivili explained that the virus is spread by droplets.

“So if you keep your distances, your chances to be infected are much lower. We also encourage people to wash hands a lot. Any regular soap or alcohol-based sanitizers are efficient, but people need to wash their hands for at least 40 seconds. However, whilst we need to be very careful, but we should not stop living. We just need to follow the instructions to protect ourselves from COVID-19.”