UN boss in Fiji explains evacuation of worker to NZ with covid-19

Sanaka Samarasinha
UN's senior official in Fiji, Sanaka Samarasinha, ... "we have a threshold in the UN system." Image: RNZ Checkpoint

RNZ News

A UN official with covid-19 has been evacuated from Fiji on a mercy flight after an about-turn from New Zealand’s health authorities.

RNZ Checkpoint understands the woman, who is seriously ill, will be treated at Auckland’s Middlemore Hospital despite New Zealand initially refusing to let her in because of “capacity” issues.

In a statement, the Ministry of Health said Auckland’s Medical Officer of Health had approved a transfer plan for the patient, taking into account the safety of the UN worker and the crew transporting her — with strong protocols in place for the transfer.

The hospital system in Fiji is overrun with 1000 new covid-19 cases in the last 24 hours and 12 deaths this week.

There are 700 UN workers in Suva. The UN’s senior official in Fiji, Sanaka Samarasinha, told Checkpoint it was a critical situation for the worker.

“We have a threshold in the UN system, it doesn’t matter which country you’re in, we do consider a certain threshold at which point we kickstart the medevac process,” he said.

Samarasinha said it was preferable to treat the person in the country they were currently in, but doctors determined it was necessary to get the woman care that was currently not available in Fiji.

‘We’re very grateful’
“As we do normally, we start looking for places where the patient can be medevaced too… New Zealand has excellent facilities and are able to provide care, we’re very grateful.”

He said the decision was made purely on medical grounds and it was not one taken lightly. He said transporting a sick person came with a certain risk.

“We are all very concerned. We are all rooting for her. We know her personally, she’s a fighter. We just have to keep our fingers crossed.

“I’m really looking forward to a positive outcome.”

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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