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Solomon Islands’ Dual Challenge: Responding to Natural Disasters and COVID-19

Solomon Islands’ Dual Challenge: Responding to Natural Disasters and COVID-19

A road sign points the way to emergency services. 

Solomon Islands has so far avoided the COVID-19 but that hasn’t stopped the government from initiating their preparedness plans and declaring a state of emergency. The government activated emergency committees, closed schools and restricted international flights in order to prevent COVID-19 from entering the country. Solomon Islands initiated quarantine procedures for suspected cases, with samples from 13 cases tested at a laboratory in Australia. All returned negative results.

However, the broader impacts of COVID-19 have been felt throughout the country with great economic consequences. The government is projecting a -4.9% GDP growth, job losses and disruption to imports and supplies due to the lack of inbound flights. The government has responded with a US$36.9 million stimulus relief package (309 million Solomon Islands dollars) that includes subsidies for households, loan relief for businesses, inter-island transfers and grants to provincial health authorities.

Like the rest of the world, the Solomon Islands is facing this unprecedented threat from COVID-19, and in addition it is also cyclone season in the Pacific, a difficult period for the country under normal circumstances. Cyclone Harold hit the Solomon Islands in early April leading to concern with food security, shelter, and water and sanitation needs. Most tragically, 27 people lost their lives when a boat transferring people from Honiara to the provinces to flee the coronavirus was caught in the cyclone. Responding to the damage left in the wake of Harold, while maintaining COVID-19 restrictions has been a particular challenge, but one that has shown the resilience of the Solomon Islands government and people.

"Collaboration, communication and strong leadership have all been a necessity at this difficult time."
Wayne Irava
World Bank Health Team Lead

“Collaboration, communication and strong leadership have all been a necessity at this difficult time. Furthermore, the Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MHMS) through the Partnership Coordination Unit is continuing to coordinate development partner support for COVID-19 in light of this dual challenge,” World Bank Health Team Lead Wayne Irava said.

Even without positive cases in the country, COVID-19 is impacting the health systems ability to ensure universal coverage, and it is important that routine public health programs and access to quality health services are able to continue for communities. These include health promotion and prevention programs, vaccination, maternal health, malaria, tuberculosis and non-communicable disease services. The MHMS is focusing on ensuring minimum disruption to these vital national programs and to ensure testing, monitoring activities and childhood immunization continue to occur. “Having managed to successfully keep COVID-19 at bay while responding to a natural disaster, Solomon Islands does not want to see the population suffer from preventable health issues due to a disruption in the delivery of these vital and routine public health programs,” Wayne said.