On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) categorised the spread of the coronavirus known as COVID-19 as a pandemic. The rapidity with which the virus spreads and its severity has prompted global shutdowns, with borders closed, international flights severely restricted and populations around the world following social distancing and isolation directives.
The virus poses specific risks to vulnerable and at risk groups – including the elderly, those with underlying health complications and those without access to adequate shelter, water and sanitation facilities. It places enormous pressure, both real and anticipated, on health systems globally. It also poses specific challenges to the humanitarian sector, including the ongoing delivery of humanitarian assistance within the context of travel restrictions and disrupted supply chains. The development of vaccines against the virus presents hope, but a new logistical challenge, as country governments attempt to vaccinate large populations in a timely way.
AHP partners are working on COVID-19 responses throughout the Pacific and within other ongoing humanitarian efforts. You can read more below, and for COVID-19 updates and lessons, visit the AHP COVID-19 Resource Centre.
The AHP Pacific COVID-19 Response
The AHP is playing a critical role in delivering Australian humanitarian assistance in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. All AHP Australian NGOs are delivering COVID-19 response efforts and the Pacific region is a primary geographical focus.
COVID-19 preparedness and response efforts are being delivered through our Disaster READY programs in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste and Vanuatu. Ongoing disaster preparedness efforts supported through the Disaster READY program meant our networks of Australian and Pacific partners were active and able to rapidly respond and support the various national COVID-19 response efforts.
The Australian Government also responded to requests for assistance from the Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu governments, and AHP partners are implementing COVID-19 assistance in these countries.
The AHP Pacific COVID-19 response supports and aligns with the government-led responses in each country. The response has also shifted over the course of the pandemic: while initial work focused on sharing health and hygiene messages and addressing the economic impact of closed borders, in many countries the response has shifted to support national vaccine rollouts, especially focused on remote communities and vulnerable groups.
In Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga, AHP partners are delivering integrated assistance in response to both COVID-19 and Tropical Cyclone Harold, which tore through the Pacific in early April 2020. In Timor-Leste, AHP partners have integrated COVID-19 response efforts into humanitarian support provided to affected households in Dili following floods in both March 2020 and March 2021. In Papua New Guinea, the newest phase of the response has a special focus on combatting vaccine hesitancy and mis-information and supporting the vaccine rollout.
Integrated COVID-19 Responses
COVID-19 assistance has been incorporated into active AHP multi-year humanitarian responses in Iraq (Building Peaceful Futures program), Lebanon and Jordan (Syrian Refugee Response), and Bangladesh and Myanmar (Rohingya Response). This has been achieved through a combination of re-programming activities and accessing existing funding sources to target specific COVID-19 response efforts.
In Vanuatu, the Women I Tok Tok Tugeta network mobilised within 24 hours of receiving training from the World Health Organisation to begin outreach sessions in their communities. Seasonal workers who had their travel plans disrupted by the pandemic have participated in a Cash for Work program led by World Vision Vanuatu, while Oxfam has rolled out ‘Unblocked Cash’, a novel cash transfer program to support affected communities.
In Kiribati, the construction of handwashing stations has been rolled out to community meeting places and the national disabled people’s organisation, Te Toa Matoa.
In Tuvalu, psychosocial support through local churches has helped people deal with the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic.
In PNG, partners have shared radio messages and other education materials on COVID-19. Faith-based partners have begun campaigns and community information sessions to build support for vaccination, while other partners have targeted online mis-information.
In Solomon Islands, urban farming programs and other food security initiatives supported communities that had faced economic challenges due to the pandemic.