Indo-Pacific partners rally to support island nations’ COVID-19 fight

Indo-Pacific partners rally to support island nations’ COVID-19 fight


The coronavirus pandemic has largely skirted the Pacific islands, a welcome absence those remote nations are seeking to prolong with ongoing support from Indo-Pacific partners.

Globally, just 12 nations had no reported cases of COVID-19 as of late September 2020, including 10 Pacific island countries, The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported. Experts say the speedy shuttering of borders in the Pacific region was vital to stemming the outbreak.

Vigilance remains a national imperative, however. While presenting a major obstacle to the virus’ spread, the immense distances between island communities also present a significant constraint to providing health care and other services.

As it has done worldwide since the virus emerged in the People’s Republic of China, the United States is spearheading relief and support efforts in the Pacific islands. (Pictured: U.S. Air Force personnel from the 535th Airlift Squadron at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, load medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) onto a C-17 Globemaster III in April 2020 for COVID-19 relief efforts in the Mariana Islands.)

The U.S. is coordinating with Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and Taiwan, as well as the Pacific community, according to the U.S. Department of State. For example, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contributed U.S. $5 million for air transportation of humanitarian and medical supplies and personnel to support the Pacific Islands Forum’s Pacific Humanitarian Pathway on COVID-19 initiative.

The forum, an 18-member political and economic policy organization founded in 1971, fosters regional prosperity and security.

“In a moment of darkness, as we’ve wrestled with both COVID-19 and the devastating arrival of severe Cyclone Harold, the Pacific Islands Forum was at the center of our region’s response — serving as a pathway for humanitarian aid and assistance to communities enduring the one-two punch of coronavirus and climate change,” Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama said in late August 2020, The Fiji Times newspaper reported.

The U.S. has provided more than U.S. $130 million for COVID-19 relief in the Pacific islands. The funding supports services ranging from disease control and prevention in health care facilities to case tracing and sanitation projects. USAID also donated a total of 90 new ventilators to Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Support from other Indo-Pacific partners includes:

  • Australia provided health care advisors, PPE and medical supplies, lab diagnostics and case management services throughout the region.
  • Japan funded the provision of medical equipment, public health awareness campaigns and technical expertise for Papua New Guinea.
  • New Zealand supplied ventilators, PPE, isolation facilities and other medical equipment, and arranged access to free COVID-19 testing for Pacific islands.
  • South Korea donated coronavirus testing kits, mobile clinic tents, PPE, portable washing stations and biosafety cabinets to Fiji.
  • Taiwan provided masks and thermal cameras to the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau and Tuvalu.

Assistance also has come from within the Pacific community: Guam received thousands of COVID-19 testing kits donated by the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands and Palau.

The lockdowns that have limited the virus in the region have also decimated the tourism industry that fuels much of the local economy. Pacific islands are “being battered by the downstream effects of the pandemic,” Gregory B. Poling and Andreyka Natalegawa of the Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote in a September 15, 2020, commentary for the Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

Indo-Pacific partners also are helping mitigate the toll of lost incomes and lower government revenues for island nations.

In mid-September 2020, the U.S. State Department announced U.S. $5 million in funding “to strengthen the capacity of civil society to address second- and third-order effects of COVID-19 by assisting the region’s most vulnerable communities.”