Fiji has been at the forefront in calling for international solidarity on an unprecedented level and far more substantial support for the Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS) that have to cope with the double burden; climate change disasters and the COVID-19 crisis.
This call was made to the UN Member states as it convened a high level briefing for the UN Ambassadors Group on Universal Coverage, co-chaired by Japan, Thailand and Georgia. During the 2019 UN General Assembly, Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama and World leaders endorsed a political declaration calling for Universal Health Coverage.
In his address earlier this week to the High level officials representing the UN Ambassadors, the World Health Organisations and the UN system, Fiji’s Permanent Representative to United Nations (PRUN), Ambassador Satyendra Prasad spoke on the need for international solidarity in extending progress towards providing universal health care for all people – and especially across the Pacific Small Island states. Ambassador Prasad resonated the messages conveyed by the Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama through his recent national address on COVID-19, in stating that “Fiji is now well on its way to eliminating COVID-19 entirely, and it’s one of the few nations on Earth who can make that claim.”
He further informed the UN audience that the Tropical Cyclone Harold, being one of the fiercest cyclones in Fiji’s history, destroyed many livelihoods and displaced thousands into emergency shelters – in the amidst of the spread of COVID-19. Ambassador Prasad said that it was commendable that during emergency response to rebuild and recover, Fiji took the greatest of care to protect its citizens from the threat of COVID-19. During the cyclone response, not a single case of transmission from emergency responders to those in the path of the cyclone was recorded. This deep commitment to protect the wellbeing of Fijian communities at one of the most difficult times in the human history reflects deeply on Bainimarama’s exemplary leadership and dedication of staff across the Fijian Government machinery– OPM, NDMO; Health; Defence; working in consolidated partnership with Fijian civil society, WHO and Fiji’s diplomatic partners.
Ambassador Prasad reminded the UN that “COVID-19 has exposed collective and national fragilities of health systems and that given the scale of social and economic impacts; in many cases, the entire SDG’s are now at risk. He stated that, “COVID-19 has the potential to overwhelm the health systems of small island developing states. Many national health systems are already overstretched. In Fiji’s case, our heroic health professionals – nurses; doctors and the entire health system has been mobilized on a war like footing for 3 straight months responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic; responding to a climate emergency; responding to climate change induced challenges such as the outbreak of dengue and leptospirosis – all the while maintaining all health services”.
“Many small island states face unfair restrictions in accessing critical equipment and supplies. Supply chain disruptions are causing serious strains on supply and distribution of medicine across the Pacific region. Small states face yet another unfair advantage – many are now required to pay much higher prices for many essential medicines. Many companies are using these disruptions to supply as an opportunity to unfairly increase price of essential medicine. This impacts small island states the hardest”. “We will only win this war of our generation if all countries have equitable access to equipment and supplies; if all countries have equitable access to testing capabilities; if all countries have equitable and free access to vaccines when they become available.”
Ambassador Prasad reminded the UN that: “the climate crisis remains a pressing health challenge. Many Pacific states spend more money each year on repairing and re-building health and health-related infrastructure that are degraded by climate change than on building new infrastructure. Fiji and Pacific need to invest considerable resources to relocate medical facilities in response to rising sea levels.”
Ambassador Prasad expressed appreciation to the United Nations Secretary General (UNSG); the Head of WHO and the Resident Coordinators in the Pacific Region for providing more “cohesive support to help Fijian government’s efforts on containing COVID-19 and addressing climate change. He also conveyed Fiji’s deep gratitude and appreciation to Fiji’s partners – Governments of “Australia, Japan, New Zealand, EU, US, and others for their extensive support to Fiji’s efforts to crush the COVID-19 pandemic.”