Fiji urged to speed up vaccination – restrictions hamper NGO work in remote islands

Remote swabs work in Fiji
Frontline workers on their way to swab villagers in remote parts of Fiji. Image: RNZ/Fiji Health Ministry

By Christine Rovoi, RNZ Pacific journalist

Fiji’s opposition Social Democratic Liberal Party is calling on the government to boost its covid-19 vaccination programmes in the remote areas amid a surge in infections.

More than 700 people in the outer islands have been infected with the delta variant virus, figures from the Health Ministry last weekend showed.

There were 271 new cases and one death confirmed since Saturday.

Kadavu also recorded two new cases last weekend, bringing the total number of cases on the eastern island to 465.

SODELPA leader Bill Gavoka said the increasing number of infections on Kadavu alone was concerning.

He said the vaccination rollout on Kadavu should be sped up and he urged villagers to get the vaccine.

Eight covid-19 patients on Kadavu have been admitted at Vunisea Hospital, five are in stable condition and three positive cases had returned negative results.

Beqa Island area of interest
Meanwhile, Beqa Island is now an area of interest after covid-19 cases were recorded on the island last week.

This involved an elderly man who died from the virus on the island, which has a total of 48 cases.

The 70-year-old died at his home in Dakuni village and was diagnosed with covid-19, the ministry said.

It said the vaccination coverage for Beqa stood at 75 percent for the first dose and 23 percent for the second dose.

“A health team, comprising personnel from the Serua/Namosi medical subdivision and the CWM Hospital was dispatched to the island on Friday 10 September 2021 to undertake awareness, contact tracing, outbreak assessment, testing, risk assessment for positive cases, vaccination, and delivery of clinical care,” the ministry said in a statement.

“Two cases have since been identified at Dakuibeqa village, bringing the total number of cases there to three.

“Rations have been provided to affected families in Dakuni village, and movement restriction is now in place for the whole island.”

People lining up to get food supplied from Save the Children on the main island Viti Levu.
People lining up to get food supplied from Save the Children on the main island Viti Levu. Image: RNZ/Save the Children

The Fiji Council of Social Services is hoping infection rates in the remote communities drop given there have not been reports from its officials there on vaccine hesitancy, said FCOSS chief executive Vani Catanasiga.

She said FCOSS officers in the outer islands had reported almost a sense of relief when the government medical teams arrived for vaccination drives.

“The big issue has been, however, on supplies – food mostly and communication networks which we have alerted the various divisional commissioners’ offices about.”

NGOs yet to get to remote areas
The restrictions have seen fewer or no presence at all of NGOs on the ground, the child rights organisation Save the Children said.

Its chief executive Shairana Ali told RNZ Pacific that while covid-19 infections had soared in remote Fiji, some NGOs had yet to get their people across from the mainland Viti Levu to these outer islands.

Save the Children organisation is one of them and Ali said this was mainly due to the movement restrictions imposed by the Health Ministry.

“We have not been able to go to these areas because of the containment measures that have been put in place by the Ministry of Health.

“We do have an officer on Kadavu but we are not able to go there. We also haven’t been able to go to the other main island, Vanua Levu, since the outbreak in April.

“These outer islands are off-limits. We are not able to deploy teams. Other NGOs are in a similar situation as us.”

Shairana Ali is the chief executive of Fiji NGO Save the Children.
Fiji NGO Save the Children’s chief executive Shairana Ali … “stretched to the limits”. Image: RNZ/Save the Children

Ali said the government is trying to contain the outbreak in the remote areas, and priority has been given to medical teams.

Cleared for humanitarian work
She said Save the Children had been cleared by the authorities to carry out humanitarian work in the central and western divisions where the outbreak is centred.

Since Sunday, there are 12,517 active cases on the main island Viti Levu with 1474 of these reported in the central division and 11,043 in the west.

Ali said they are “stretched to the limits” in their response efforts on the mainland.

“We have been able to provide grocery packs to families, 1800 families who need the support since April,” she said.

“We believe that families in the remote islands are better off food security wise, than those on the mainland, because they have the land to plant, fish etc.

“We have not received any request for assistance from communities in the outer islands but we are working closely with the Council of Social Services who have people on the ground in these areas.”

As of 11th September, the Health Ministry said 97.1 percent of the target population had received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine while 58.2 were fully-vaccinated.

Fiji has 12,814 active cases in isolation and the death toll is at 535, with 533 of these from the latest outbreak that began in April this year.

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

Print Friendly, PDF & Email