Vanuatu will soon start testing for COVID-19 locally.

This came about after the first batch of 320 cartridges were received by the Vanuatu Government yesterday (Monday).

High Commissioner of Australia, Sarah deZoeten joined her New Zealand counterpart, Jonathan Schwass and representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO) and The Pacific Community (SPC) to hand over 320 GeneXpert test cartridges to Vanuatu Prime Minister, Bob Loughman yesterday afternoon.

Upon receiving the equipment on behalf of the government yesterday, Prime Minister Loughman, said the arrival of the cartridges is a milestone effort that demonstrates true friendship and solidarity of partners.

He thanked the governments of New Zealand and Australia for financial assistance and WHO and SPC, through the joint incident management team based in Suva (Fiji) for ensuring these cartridges reached Vanuatu.

“It is encouraging to see that Vanuatu is still COVID-19 free, thanks to the collective efforts of the government and donors," he said.

“My government and the people of Vanuatu also cherish the relationship we have with the people of your countries and the regional and international agencies which drives you to come forward and assist our nation in need when we are facing multiple disasters”, he said adding that humanity is the most important value to think and act upon between friend countries in times of crisis.

“VCH is setting up the new laboratory which was handed over last Friday and running controls, validation tests and external quality assurance assessments this week. It is envisaged that by next week Vanuatu should be test ready.

“Being test ready is a vital aspect of our preparedness efforts as the government wants to commence repatriation of our stranded citizens this month."

However, PM Loughman said the repatriation plan cannot be executed unless a number of key areas such as laboratory testing, vigilant surveillance, isolation, intensive care, quarantine and tracing facilities are enhanced to acceptable standards.

A COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan is in place to guide the health system response to COVID-19 and to ensure that the country is prepared to identify, isolate and care for the sick and trace contacts.

The government of Australia was acknowledged for providing additional financial assistance to the economic stimulus and the health sector.

He thanked all traditional partners for their concern on the well-being of the people of Vanuatu.

Australian High Commissioner to Vanuatu, Sarah de Zoeten, said the government of Australia will work closely with the government of Vanuatu to bring more cartridges. 

“I acknowledge the hard work of everyone involved to ensure has access to high-quality testing equipment to detect and combat COVID-19. We all stand with Vanuatu as it faces economic and health security challenges of COVID-19," she said.

The GeneXpert system is endorsed by WHO and produce accurate results within 45 minutes, according to High Commissioner Zoeten.

Yesterday's handover occasion was witnessed by the Minister of Health, Silas Bule, Minister of Climate Change, Bruno Leingkon, officials from the MoH and National Disaster Management Office.

The test cartridges which will enable testing for COVID-19 in Vanuatu arrived on a Royal Australian Air Force C-17 aircraft that landed in Port Vila on Saturday 16 May. 

The equipment was delivered on flights to the Pacific, through Australia’s Pacific Corridor, in support of the Pacific Islands Forum’s Pacific Humanitarian Pathway. The corridor is enabling essential services and humanitarian assistance to reach the Pacific amid global transport and border restrictions due to the pandemic. In doing this, partners are working with the Government of Vanuatu to ensure compliance with Vanuatu’s strict COVID-19 quarantine requirements.

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