Australia is sending a medical assistance team and an additional 50,000 AstraZeneca vaccines to its easterly neighbour Fiji, as the Pacific island nation grapples with a growing number of COVID-19 cases, escalating poverty and rising hunger.
The medical team, comprising Australians and New Zealanders, will work with the Fijian Ministry of Health to administer infection control and provide health system management advice over the next month.
Since April, Australia has sent 200,000 vaccines and 1.3 million tonnes of equipment and supplies to Fiji.
In a joint statement, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Health Minister Greg Hunt and Minister for the Pacific Zed Seselja said the additional support, delivered on request of the Fijian government, shows Australia’s “continued commitment to stand with our Fijian vuvale (family).”
"The health security of our near neighbours is a critical priority for Australia,” Payne added.
Delighted to handover 50k of the now delivered 250k 🇦🇺 AstraZeneca 💉 to @Nadokoulu today to assist @MOHFiji & @FijianGovt's rollout. Their efforts have seen 250k + Fijians receiving their 1st AZ💉dose. 🇦🇺 stands with our #vuvale through this pandemic & beyond. #StrongerTogetherpic.twitter.com/ZPsRnN0CDC— John Feakes (@AusHCFJ) June 21, 2021
The current Fijian outbreak has spiked in the past week.
In the last week of May, the nation recorded 244 confirmed cases. A week later, a further 400 Fijians had been infected, followed by an additional 785 in the week commencing June 14 — a 91% increase from the previous seven days.
Under 50 cases were recorded in all of 2020.
Sandra Bernklau, the UN Women Representative for the Fiji Multi-Country Office stated that the socio-economic impact of COVID 19 on the nation’s economy has been profound.
“Globally, we have seen that COVID-19 impacts men and women differently. We can see this occurring in Fiji and the Pacific, where women are experiencing increased rates of violence as well as the increased pressures of supporting themselves and their families with often reduced income, and in some cases a total loss of income,” she said. “In Fiji and the Pacific, women dominate the informal sector where if business stops, income also stops. The many women who work in the informal sector, including small and micro-businesses reliant upon tourism, are particularly at risk. Some small business owners struggle to comply with ensuring they can operate safely during COVID 19 periods.”
Bernklau said she holds hope that the outbreak will come under control as vaccinations increase across the country.
Around 250,000 Fijians, about 28% of the population, have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose as of June 22.