New radio program supports COVID-19 response in Pacific islands

New radio program supports COVID-19 response in Pacific islands


Fiji and the United States, joined by donor partners, are taking the battle against COVID-19 to the airwaves with a new radio program. Health Care on Air will help nurses and other front-line workers provide quality care to Pacific islands communities while protecting themselves from the virus, officials said.

The program is part of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID’s) Preventing and Responding to COVID-2019 project with UNICEF Pacific, which is implemented in Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

The U.S. $1.85 million project seeks to stem the spread of COVID-19 and prepare island nations to adapt rapidly to advances in knowledge and specialization, according to the U.S. Embassy in Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga and Tuvalu. The initiative also aims to ease the pandemic’s ripple effects, including the extra stress and expense imposed on already fragile health care systems in the region.

The radio program highlights the U.S. commitment to “preventing the spread of this deadly and costly virus, containing it where it is, assisting in its mitigation, and more importantly, helping build a more stable and secure future for the Pacific islands,” U.S. Ambassador Joseph Cella said during the July 6, 2020, unveiling of Health Care on Air in Fiji’s capital, Suva. (Pictured: U.S. Ambassador Joseph Cella and health workers attend the launch of Health Care on Air.)

The Pacific islands region has so far escaped the brunt of the pandemic — partly a consequence of the vast distances separating many of the sparsely populated nations. Fiji, with about 900,000 residents, had 18 confirmed COVID-19 cases and no virus-related deaths as of July 1, 2020, the nation’s Ministry of Health and Medical Services reported. About 5,000 people had been tested.

The nation’s geography — more than 330 islands, about one-third of which are inhabited, scattered across 1.3 million square kilometers of the South Pacific — also is an obstacle to providing health care, the ministry’s website notes.

Officials called for continued vigilance against the virus. Noting recent case spikes outside the region, Fiji’s health minister, Dr. Ifereimi Waqainabete, said “a risk somewhere is a risk anywhere and the presence of communicable disease in one country represents a threat to the entire Pacific islands countries.”

Waqainabete said the radio program, which will be available online, will support the lifesaving efforts of health workers. “It is the role of this program not only to make them aware about how they can be able to better provide services wherever they are but also to give them tips and evidence-based practices on how to keep them safe,” he said at the launch ceremony.

USAID has invested U.S. $24.2 million to help Pacific island nations mitigate the pandemic, including for disease prevention and control, hygiene promotion, and the provision of medical personnel and supplies. Health Care on Air will bolster community engagement and risk communication for health workers, the U.S. Embassy said.