4 April 2022 – The World Health Organization (WHO), the Government of Japan and the Governments of the Republic of Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and the Republic of Palau are partnering together to enhance COVID-19 preparedness and response in the three Pacific island countries. The Government of Japan is providing US$ 697,101 funding through WHO with the project focusing on remote and outer islands in the Marshall Islands, FSM and Palau.

The partnership is coming at an opportune time as several Pacific countries and areas are responding to COVID-19 cases and community transmission for the first time. Palau faced a temporary surge of active cases from December 2021 to March 2022, resulting in nearly 4,000 cumulative cases all reported in 2022. While the Marshall Islands has reported only four imported cases in 2020 and FSM has had no cases so far, it is likely that the virus will eventually enter the countries at some point.

 “The surge of COVID-19 cases in Palau since last December has clearly showed the significance of the emergency operation team of the Ministry of Health and Human Services. I hope this project will contribute to enhancing the capacity of the team furthermore as another showcase of Japan’s assistance to Palau in the medical field.” H.E. KARASAWA Akira, Ambassador of Japan to the Republic of Palau.

This latest partnership builds on two years of COVID-19 preparedness efforts in the Pacific. The Marshall Islands, FSM and Palau heeded WHO’s warnings in early 2020 and, since that time, have been implementing measures including effective border controls, preparing intensive care unit beds and isolation units, and, more recently, rolling out COVID-19 vaccines. However, people living in outer islands in the Pacific are at greater risk if COVID-19 hits due to shortage in health workers, facilities and services in these remote areas and the difficulty in accessing the main islands for these services.

The one-year project will address these urgent needs by strengthening and establishing national emergency medical teams, providing logistics and capacity building support, prepositioning critical equipment and supplies, and engaging with health workers and the communities in the remote islands in Marshall Islands, FSM and Palau.

National emergency medical teams (EMT) are composed of health professionals – such as doctors, nurses, pharmacists, logisticians – that deploy and respond rapidly to sudden onset emergencies or outbreaks. WHO has been supporting and coordinating the EMT initiative across the Pacific with five countries having fully established their own national EMT. The project will fast-track these efforts to launch, train and enhance readiness for deployment of the Marshall Islands Medical Assistance Team (MI-MAT) in the Marshall Islands, KLEMAT in Palau, and four more teams – one for each state – in FSM.

 “Palau’s ETM known as KLEMAT, means the rope that holds the sails of our traditional canoes. It signifies good navigation, governance and leadership. As we would like Palau to be fully prepared for another surge of COVID-19 or any other outbreak, I welcome this valued partnership with the Government of Japan and the WHO to make KLEMAT a beacon of hope to safeguard the health and lives or our People.“ Said Honorable Gaafar J. Uherbelau, Minister of Health and Human Services, Republic of Palau.

The project will also involve the training of emergency medical teams and health workers in clinical management and infection prevention and control, as well as support technicians and logisticians in emergency preparedness logistics and maintenance. Critical medical equipment and supplies and communication satellite phones will be procured and prepositioned. In addition, risk communication and community engagement will be strengthened to help people to understand how to safely care for mildly ill family members at home.

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