The speed with which COVID-19 swept across the world caught most nations and healthcare facilities both by surprise and unprepared. Some nations, like those in Oceania, were spared the first few years of the virus given their remoteness and the speed with which they were able to shut their borders.
But in January 2022, when cases first appeared in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, several healthcare workers quickly became infected and needed the requisite time to both recover and test negative before returning to work. Further, many frontline workers, including those vaccinating the population, were either not using, or not properly using, their personal protective equipment (PPE), making both them and their susceptible to infection.
Getting vaccinated at the Pikinini Clinic’s COVID-19 facility
For the country’s Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MHMS), priority one was to ensure not only adequate healthcare capacity for patients, but also protect frontline workers and their families. Making matters more challenging, the pandemic arrived during the onset of the region’s rainy season causing frequent interruptions in the Ministry’s ability to provide vaccinations in outdoor space.
Through a partnership with UNICEF, and with the support of the India-UN Development Partnership Fund, MHMS was able to secure 10 large, the size needed to provide shelter for critical COVID-19 services, from vaccination to testing to triage. In addition, MHMS procured an array of essential equipment, including PPEs, and usage training for more than 300 healthcare and frontline personnel and 4,500 bottles of hand sanitizer, as well as biohazard equipment – waste disposal bags, needle burners and syringe destroyers and biosafety cabinets.
COVID-19 healthcare protocols also require ready access to clean water for general use, but particularly for regular sanitizing to help mitigate ongoing transmission risks. With further support from the India-UN Fund, the project installed more than 100 water tanks in both health care facilities and schools in the Guadalcanal province of the Islands. More than 2,800 facility patients and 8,800 students benefitted from these installations, along with an projected 228,000 people from the region.
“When community transmission of COVID-19 first started in Honiara in January 2022, health workers became infected and began to fall sick. I was scared and did not want to work anymore as I was scared to get sick and infect my family”, says a trained vaccinator in Honiara City Council. “I am glad that we now have masks, gowns, gloves to use while conducting COVID-19 response activities and administering vaccinations. We have also been taught how to put on and remove the PPE correctly. Now I feel safe and secure using the PPE to continue with the work to protect my people against this pandemic.”