IFC Is Supporting Solomon Islands Companies Through The COVID-19 Crisis.
Quoting the Solomon Times – 2 June 2020
“Solomon Islands companies surveyed by IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, have all experienced an impact from COVID-19 on their businesses, with 89 percent of them experiencing a reduction in demand and 78 percent a reduction in turnover or cash flow.
“IFC surveyed nine Solomon Islands companies from the Waka Mere initiative during April and May to obtain a clear picture of the impacts of COVID-19 and deliver actionable business insights.
“Waka Mere, an initiative to promote gender equality in the private sector in Solomon Islands, was set up by IFC, and the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry, with the support of the Australian and new Zealand governments.
“The survey showed that 56 percent of the businesses who took part may need to downsize in the next year due to impacts of COVID-19.”
Copyright @ 2020, Solomon Star.
2 June 2020
Rapid urbanistion poses significant challenges - Implied lessons for the Solomon Islands.
“Sometimes it is the learning, not just the giving, that is most important.
Ultimately COVID-19 offers a challenging policy context for a region that is already facing the negative effects of rapid urbanisation, significant health challenges and exposure to natural hazards as well as climate change. This is not just a public health emergency, it needs an integrated response that is tailored to the unique social, economic and health contexts, and works with informal settlements, not bypasses them.” (Laura Bruce)
Laura Bruce writing for UNHCR is quoted in a piece first published at Policy Forum, Asia and the Pacific’s platform for public policy analysis and opinion, as saying Pacific islands face unique challenges in combating COVID-19 and will need unique solutions to come out of the crisis unscathed.
“The Pacific islands’ idyllic reputation contributes to perceptions that it is largely rural.
“While much of Melanesia remains agricultural, it is urbanising rapidly – faster than most cities globally. A growing number of Pacific island inhabitants live in its cities and towns, and in all but a few of the Pacific Island Countries (PICs) the urbanisation growth rate exceeds the rate of rural population growth.
“Capital cities, from Port Moresby to Tarawa, are roughly doubling in size every 15 years, but lack significant urban planning.
“High population densities in many Pacific cities could have implications for the spread of COVID-19, particularly in Melanesia where a large portion of urban inhabitants live in informal settlements.
“Currently there are no reported cases of COVID-19 in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, only eight in PNG, and just under 20 in Fiji. However, in a situation where there is limited testing capacity and poor health infrastructure, all these countries have prudently issued a ‘state of emergency’ and lockdowns.
“Every country in the world is currently discovering the trade-offs between health and economic performance. However, these economic trade-offs will be felt keenly in the already poorly performing Pacific region. This is largely due to the large numbers of people reliant on informal sectors for income, and nations that derive significant income from tourism and trade. The negative social implications will include deepening urban poverty, food insecurity and a marked increase in domestic violence, particularly in PNG which already has some of the highest family and sexual violence rates in the world.
“The current situation is even more challenging for those living in informal settlements which are densely populated and have poor access to basic services, such as health care. It is estimated that up to 50 per cent of the urban population in the Melanesia region live in informal settlements. In addition, these numbers are likely to be even higher due to data collection challenges, old census data, the circular movement of people between rural and urban locations and the fact that peri-urban growth, which occurs outside formal city boundaries, is not included in urban census data.
“Urban population numbers are hard to estimate. Similarly, obtaining accurate health data in the Pacific is also a challenge, particularly in the informal settlement context. Testing is very limited in these countries and until now have been almost non-existent in the informal settlements, even though living conditions put them at high risk.
“It is telling that all four countries in the Melanesian region are excluded from a recent independent report on UN Sustainable Development Goals progress due to insufficient data. This is despite the fact that the region is well known to have considerable health challenges, including the double burden of disease and weak health infrastructure.
“National governments face significant challenges in preparing responses to the threat of COVID-19. Currently there are low numbers of infection reported in PNG but there are concerns that this masks unreported cases due to limited testing availability.
“Modelling is being used for countries to plan for the COVID-19 pandemic, but their value is questionable in small island contexts. Most of this modelling uses data from China and high-income countries which may have little applicability to low-income settings – but without firsthand evidence, we don’t yet know.
For example, the Imperial College COVID-19 response team has thus far used few studies from low- and middle-income countries, meaning analyses of risk based on descriptions of how populations mix may be inaccurate. Moreover, strategies based on high-income country data may be less effective in the urban Pacific, particularly in the informal settlement context in Melanesia where households often include multiple members, social distancing is rarely possible, and access to water for handwashing and personal hygiene is patchy.
“While restrictions have been placed on human movement in some Pacific island countries, in reality there is still regular migration of people and goods between urban and rural areas. This could prove problematic during a pandemic if pockets of COVID occur.
Increased information about household and social structures is important for the Pacific response to COVID-19 considering dense settlement in cities. It will also be useful in contact tracing, particularly in PNG where urban residents have been asked to return to their villages and in the Solomon Islands where the government has requested that unemployed residents of Honiara return to their villages in rural areas. People are mixing with family, food market vendors, and fellow passengers on public transport such as ferries. The lack of testing means possible incidents of COVID could evade early detection.
“Health security issues never occur in isolation. This was evident following the recent category five Cyclone Harold in early April. Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands were affected by high winds which resulted in considerable damage to homes and infrastructure. The intersection of both crises resulted in response bottlenecks. Some much needed humanitarian supplies were delayed due to lack of transport, and the need to quarantine goods and ensure handling and distribution met health standards aimed at containing COVID-19 risks.
“But among the setbacks, there have been advances. In Fiji – one of the few Pacific countries with inclusive policies for informal settlements – community structures are being utilised by emergency responders and often the government to ensure effective responses. A senior non-governmental organisation leader with over 10 years of experience in Fiji noted that domestic disaster systems and responsiveness are improving as the local institutions have gained experience and stronger expert networks.
Footnote: Laura Bruce is the Research Associate for the Inaugural Judith Neilson Chair in Architecture where she is supporting research in urbanisation, disaster risk reduction and marginalisation both Internationally and in Australia.
1 June 2020
Solomon Islands: A growing population is straining the dedicated work of the country’s medical personnel and on the NRH as the sole referral hospital
I believe it is fair to say few will disagree that the MOHMS has done good work in responding to the COVID-19 threat and the front line personnel of the MOHMS, inclusive of doctors and nurses, are continuing to monitor the threat and prepare for the possibility of a coronavirus case being detected.
The preparations for dealing with any COVID-19 case has been greatly aided by the Solomon’s donor partners and seen the National Referral Hospital (NRH) provided with a Intensive Care Unit and two Isolation Wards and equipment for testing. A quarantine facility has also been built at the International Airport.
There can be no question that the COVID-19 threat has put increased pressure on the MOHMS and at a time when the National Health Service is having to increasingly deal with communicable and non communicable diseases.
The new population figures and demographics revealed in the last census, over 686,884 people, serves to underscore the strain on the MOHMS and especially on the NRH with relatively few doctors and nurses at the referral hospital and far fewer doctors and nurses in the rural areas where people still rely on a nurse run provincial primary care system.
Moreover, many of the Rural Health Centres are run down and more than 70% needing costly upgrades, major repairs or extensive renovations.
I recall that the condition of area health centres and rural health clinics was assessed in 2005 and again in 2012.
Both of those surveys outlined the then urgent need for upgrades and many such facilities were operating without water, sanitation and electricity.
The surveys also told of old and poorly maintained medical, diagnostic and surgical equipment.
In 2016, the country’s health system had significant weaknesses and moves were subsequently made to improved things with the formulation of a ‘Role Delineation Policy RDP) then being an essential part of the National Health Strategic Plan – 2016-2020. The RDP was set to be implemented in the rural provinces from 2017.
Already 4 months into 2020, one has been shocked to learn most recently that rural medical services in the Western Province have been found, following inspection, to be ‘unimaginable’
What seemingly de-railed the Role Delineation Policy set to bring the much needed improvements to health care and health facilities?
COVID-19 despite the deadly threat it poses has served to see an outpouring of help to the Solomon Islands MOHMS from friends like, Australia, New Zealand, the United States, the WHO, the EU, Japan and the new diplomatic partner China.
Will Solomon Islands strategically located (in the actual and geo-political context) receive further aid from its partners, including South Korea which aided medical services in the past, to bring about the reforms identified as needed four years ago in the RDP?
Such reforms must include removing the strain on the NRH, as the sole referral hospital, for the demands on its services and those of the medical and nursing staff is clearly obvious in the circumstances I have described.
2 June 2020
New diagnostic blood test could help eliminate malaria
Quoting weforum.org, an international collaborative team from PROS Ehime University and CellFee Science, Japan; the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Australia; Pasteur Institute, France; and Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, Switzerland developed a new diagnostic blood test which detects recent exposure to ‘vivax’ malaria.
“The new test can also identify people who may harbor dormant liver-stage malaria parasites, which can cause illness. This new diagnostic approach has the potential to enhance malaria surveillance and accelerate elimination.
“Plasmodium vivax is the most widespread malaria parasite worldwide, with up to two billion people at risk of infection. As well as causing illness and death in its 'active' stage of infection, the parasite can hide as hypnozoites, a dormant stage, in the liver, and is a significant cause of 'relapsing' malaria.
“These hypnozoites, undetectable with current diagnostics, can be responsible for >80% of all blood-stage infections. Identifying and targeting individuals with hypnozoites is thus essential for accelerating and achieving malaria elimination. A major gap in the P. vivax elimination toolkit is the identification of individuals carrying clinically silent and undetectable hypnozoites.
“The findings were published in the Nature Medicine, which states that the study developed a panel of serological exposure markers capable of classifying individuals with P. vivax infections within the previous 9 months who have a high likelihood of harboring hypnozoites.
“We measured IgG antibody responses with the AlphaScreen system to 342 P. vivax proteins expressed by a wheat germ cell-free system, invented at Ehime University, in longitudinal clinical cohorts conducted in Thailand and Brazil and identified 60 candidate serological markers of exposure.
“Candidate markers were validated using samples from year-long observational cohorts conducted in Thailand, Brazil and the Solomon Islands and antibody responses to eight P. vivax proteins classified P. vivax infections in the previous 9 months with 80% sensitivity and specificity. Mathematical models demonstrate that a serological testing and treatment strategy could reduce P. vivax prevalence by 59-69%.
“These eight antibody responses can serve as a biomarker, identifying individuals who should be targeted with anti-hypnozoite therapy. The test offers new opportunities for improving malaria control and elimination strategies.”
The Solomon Islands saw a 73% decrease in reported malaria cases between 2004 and 2015, from 90,240 cases to 23,998 cases. However, the country experienced a resurgence of malaria in 2016 due to uncontrollable programmatic factors. In 2017, there were 52,483 confirmed cases of malaria and 27 deaths reported
Malaria and, to a lesser extent, dengue fever occur throughout the year and no doubt climate change has an influence on the mosquito borne diseases.
Solomon Islands: A new pathway for learning in schools and colleges with computer technology
Last week, the Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Matthew Wale, called on the government to supply reasonably priced laptops for students in the emergency zone.
Quoting his words in the Solomon Star newspaper, he said:
“I also call on the government to provide free internet access (including ISPs to lower profit margins on bandwidth), and to charge the costs for this to the responsible ministry.
“Furthermore, I also call on the government to procure reasonably priced laptops for our students in the emergency zone.
“The internet provides a viable option to ongoing learning in such times and fits in well with current emergency restrictions. The present situation provides us with the opportunity to make use of this technology and set a new pathway of learning for our schools and students.”
I can support the introduction of laptops to school students because computers can promote quality education, but educational technology programs have costs that must be considered.
Obviously, there are a number of costs associated with having students issued with laptops, and cover the fixed costs of the equipment, bandwidths, wireless points and electrical installation
Then one would also need to consider:
Service costs: Teacher training, teacher support
Recurrent costs: Maintenance, tech support, refreshing equipment, and
Incidental costs: Consent forms, paper, toner, storage spaces, and security.
The biggest cost issue, I guess, would be the cost of the laptops themselves unless they could be provided free of charge.
In 2014, I recall the Government of Georgia having generously donated laptops to Tapuaki Community High School on Sikaina Island and also to several rural schools in Malaita, Choiseul and in both the Western and Makira Provinces.
I don’t know whether the Government of Georgia is still donating laptops, or would be willing to do so again.