Since the alert was sounded last month about the heightened global risk of coronavirus (COVID-19), the Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MHMS) has been working closely with key development partners to prepare for a potential outbreak in Solomon Islands. In-country technical advisers from the World Health Organization (WHO), Australia’s Health Sector Support Program and UNICEF, who provide ongoing support to health system strengthening, have now shifted their focus to COVID-19.
While there are no cases yet in Solomon Islands, the Permanent Secretary of MHMS, Mrs Pauline McNeil, recognised early the surge in activity required, and submitted a request to the Australian Government for additional technical support to ensure MHMS and Solomon Islands is adequately prepared.
Australia was quick to respond through funding provided to WHO’s Regional Office for the Western Pacific. Adviser Philippe Guyant arrived within a few days to assess potential options for quarantine facilities for high-risk travellers arriving in Solomon Islands.
A second adviser from Australia, Dr Sonia McCarthy, arrived on 11February. Dr McCarthy is a public health physician with extensive experience in disease outbreak preparedness. Due to her previous work with MHMS in the WHO Solomon Islands Office, she was able to hit the ground running.
Dr Sonia said she was happy to be back in Solomon Islands. “It’s great to be able to come back and support MHMS, who have already been extremely proactive in their response, under the leadership of PS McNeil and Undersecretary for Health Improvement, Dr Nemia Bainivalu.
“Having systems in place to identify, quarantine, isolate and treat any suspected cases of COVID-19 is really important to avoid a major outbreak. MHMS should be proud of the progress they have made to prevent, prepare for and respond to COVID-19,” she said.
PS McNeil has assured the public that MHMS and other line ministries are well aware of the risk for Solomon Islands that COVID-19 poses, and expressed gratitude for the support from development partners in responding so quickly to the request for additional assistance.
“Timely action is critical and MHMS is stretched to capacity in making sure we are ready to manage the situation, if a suspected case arises,” she said. “We are so grateful to our development partners, particularly Australia, WHO and UNICEF, who bring specific experience and skills from other similar outbreak situations elsewhere. We are working very closely together with our adviser team, to protect the people of Solomon Islands from COVID-19.”