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After a volcanic eruption, a tsunami and the continuing challenges of the COVID-19 outbreak, the people of Tonga are united in an effort to protect their communities and rebuild their island nation. However Pacific nations and organizations always rise to support their neighbours, and the efforts to support Tonga are no exception.
Recently a team of health experts from the Pacific Community (SPC) have been in Tonga working with the Ministry of Health, and regional partners to provide COVID support in critical areas such as laboratory, surveillance, coordination, non-communicable diseases (NCD) and data management.
Dr Siale ‘Akau’ola, Chief Executive Officer from the Tonga Ministry of Health, commended the deployment teams efforts working alongside local counterparts. “The SPC team have certainly helped us achieve so many outputs, way beyond expectations. But this kind of collaboration and support is just a part of what makes our region such a special place- working together we can achieve so much.”
Some of the current actives in Tonga include the revision and development of many COVID-19 related Guidelines and Standard Operating Procedures. This has led to significant improvements in effectiveness and efficiency of laboratory services, diagnosis of COVID-19, surveillance and rapid response, port of entry and quarantine issues, risk communication community engagement, and much more.
Deputy Director for SPC’s Public Health Division Mr Sunia Soakai, who led the team, reflected on the mission saying, “Our deployment has allowed us to strengthen the support we were providing remotely. We were able to complete quality standards audits for the laboratory and provide the team with training on reporting and use of the new BioRad RT-PCR equipment. This will be beneficial as Tonga awaits the pending arrival of a refurbished laboratory container for the Vava’u districted jointly funded by the European Union, New Zealand Foreign Affairs and Trade and SPC.”
One important area of work for the team is the development and implementation of standard operating procedures for delivery of diabetes and Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) essential services during COVID-19 response. Persons living with non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, heart diseases, hypertension, chronic lung diseases and cancers are more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with COVID-19. Diabetes testing kits were also handed over to the National Diabetes Centre.
SPC is also working with partners to support risk communication efforts and Mr Soakai will continue to work in Tonga for 2 more weeks supporting coordination, logistics, repatriation, and safe border opening.
Contacts: Evlyn Mani, Information and Communications Officer, Public Health Division (PDH), Pacific Community (SPC) | evlynm [at] spc.int