PARTNERING AT THE REGIONAL-LEVEL TO BUILD BACK BETTER AFTER COVID-19:
STRENGTHENING HEALTH SECURITY SYSTEMS AND ENABLING EQUITABLE VACCINE ACCESS IN THE PACIFIC
High Level side event at the special session of the United Nations General Assembly on the COVID-19 pandemic
Remarks by Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General, Meg Taylor, DBE.
Ambassador Prasad, Permanent Representative of Fiji to the UN and representative of the Incoming Forum Chair, Ambassador Laloniu, Permanent Representative of Tuvalu and representative of the Forum Chair, Excellencies, Fellow panelists, ladies and gentlemen- Warm greetings from Suva to you all.
Thank you for the opportunity to join this panel this morning.
Indeed, the Pacific region has moved swiftly to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and has done so through a comprehensive approach that has seen a strong partnership between international and regional agencies and supported by key development partners.
In April, Forum Foreign Ministers established the Pacific Humanitarian Pathway on COVID-19 which has become an invaluable platform for our Members, Pacific and international organisations and UN agencies – WHO and WFP, and our Forum Dialogue Partners to coordinate our collective response efforts.
At a political level, our Foreign and Economic Ministers have also issued COVID-19 statement that clearly articulate the unique needs of our collective membership and recognising our countries’ healthcare capacities; the acute disruptions to all our economies; and the need to remain cognizant of other regional priorities and crises that continue to wreak havoc in our countries such as climate change. Indeed, this will be reinforced at the Leaders level when the Prime Minister of Tuvalu and Chair of the Pacific Islands of Forum delivers the Forum Leaders Statement at the Special UNGA session.
Indeed, I encourage all development partners to consult and work with Pacific countries and organisations in their efforts, especially regional initiatives to assist our members with their policy priorities to support their recovery from the pandemic.
Ladies and Gentlemen, in recent months, we have watched in anticipation as various COVID-19 vaccine candidates have begun to return promising results. Without a vaccine our people can trust, devastating disruptions to all our interdependent economies will continue unabated.
As such, the eventual procurement of safe, affordable and trusted vaccines has now become a focus of our work. I am very grateful to the Pacific’s Joint Incident Management Team in this area, a multi-sectoral team consisting of key agencies in the COVID-19 response and recovery.
As we speak, the Team is consolidating implementation plans that will support Pacific countries and territories when a safe and effective regulatory approved vaccine becomes available, including through the COVAX facility. Within these spaces, Advance Market Commitments to support high risk populations in developing countries is crucial. We need all the support we can get to access and leverage financing from development partners and banks to support cost-sharing for vaccine doses and delivery costs.
Pacific Heads of Health met yesterday to move on these important vaccine issues. These include:
Finalising National Deployment and Vaccination Plans;
Ensuring our regulatory systems are ready to deal with the important indemnification and liability issues by having streamlined, harmonised and safe processes in place when the vaccines become available;
Ensuring that healthcare workers and other high-risk groups are covered through prioritized and targeted vaccination that will hopefully cover all of our people;
Access to multilateral financing to cover all Forum Island Countries regardless of size, development status or global economic ranking; and
Important risk communications through community engagement to manage expectations and an extremely challenging communications landscape.
When regulatory approved vaccines become available there will be an inevitable rush for these products the world over. However, I urge caution in the procurement of vaccines – our governments must exercise principles of accountability, accessibility and inclusivity in their National Deployment and Vaccination Plans.
Further, the availability of vaccines should not be determined along geographic, gender or socio-economic lines, and must be easily accessible to those most vulnerable to the virus. Given our relatively small populations, we must endeavour to achieve 100 percent coverage and with Australia’s valuable contribution of $500 million towards the COVAX, I am confident we can achieve that.
My final point is on the importance of multilateralism and coordination between regional and international organisations. The region faces a perfect storm of climate change, natural disasters and economic stress from this pandemic that can only be addressed through effective multilateralism.
This means closer collaboration and coordination between international and regional organisations where regional priorities set the pace and tone for recovery, such as we have seen through this COVID-19 experience.
I cannot urge enough the importance of alignment and coordination in the region. The challenges before us can only be overcome through strong partnership and collaboration and the efficient use of our limited resources. Indeed, our people demand this of us.
I thank you.