Decentralizing COVID-19 preparedness to communities

COVID-19 health preparedness and responses have been well ahead of the global spread of the virus into the Pacific and the Solomon Islands. Today despite registering 17 cases from both importation and spread within flight and quarantine stations, there is still no evidence to suggest that the virus has transmitted beyond the quarantine stations and isolation wards.

The delay of the global spread of the virus into the country had provided excellent opportunities for health and its partners to swiftly implement the health COVID-19 preparedness and response plan in preparation of a potential entry. The entry did eventuate on 3 October.

Nevertheless and as the Health Minister highlighted in his remarks to officially open the new COVID-19 Central Field Hospital last week Friday;

“The entry of the virus was met by well trained and protected frontline workers, including health workers who safely moved the virus from the airport into the quarantine stations and on to isolation wards. In quarantine and isolation, the imported COVID-19 was met by 100 percent enforcement of infection, prevention, control and environmental health standards that prevented any spread beyond these managed facilities. The virus could not even hide itself from the already well established molecular laboratory equipped with qPCR and GeneXpert machine that quickly detected the virus in a matter of only 3-4 hours”.

However, the challenge of keeping ahead of the virus which essentially means, preparing for all possible scenarios still remains and is on the top of health priorities with its efforts against COVID-19. Thus as part of maintaining lead, the Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MHMS) is now embarking on empowering communities to proactively take actions themselves in protecting themselves against the virus.

In the past months, MHMS had developed a “Community Preparedness for COVID-19 Planning Tool Booklet” which was lately implemented with communities along the western border in the Shortland Islands, improved, endorsed and in the process of rolling out to communities. This Booklet is locally developed and contextualize to our context.

Last week, National Health Emergency Operation Centre’s (NHEOC) Risk Communication Team members were deployed to Malaita and Central Islands province for training of trainers on the booklet. The team also conducted training with the Health promotion officers of the Guadalcanal and Honiara city council. The trainers will then be deployed to the communities using the booklet to empower communities to start taking necessary steps to develop their own COVID-19 preparedness and response plan suited to their own context and formation of community committees to oversee the implementation of the plan.

The team will continues to visit other Provinces.

MHMS Permanent Secretary explained that this initiative is necessary to get everyone on board in the fight against COVID-19. “ I have reiterated many a times that tackling this global pandemic is not only the responsibility of the Ministry of Health let alone the government but everyone’s business and thus requires collective action across sectors and in this case across levels of governance, community level included”.

“It will not be an easy task for sure but one that is necessary to undertake to remain ahead of the game with the virus and prepare for all possible scenarios, spread and community transmission included”, stated Mrs. McNeil.

She however advised that while reaching all communities with the initiative may be difficult, health is optimistic that with support from the government and its partners, health will continue to work hard to ensure that it is rolled out to as much as possible, all communities across the country.