As Fiji’s daily COVID-19 cases hit 1,200 in a 24 hour period, Fiji’s top health official is looking to bring in more retired health workers, recent graduates and civil servants to help boost medical and health sector workers.
There are now 11,033 active COVID-19 cases in the country. Five more deaths were reported this evening. There have now been 74 deaths due to COVID-19 in Fiji, with eight other deaths under investigation.
Permanent Secretary for Health and Medical Services, Dr James Fong says retired health workers who are fully vaccinated and don’t suffer from co-morbidity factors continue to be engaged. “I’ve got a bit of support for another 20 doctors and 20 nurses, you know, just as to temporarily hold the place. We have 160 graduates that we will be bringing ..in again. And I think we’re the other thing… [that] we also have is the ability to train non-medical people to be able to do some other some other functions like pushing patients along corridors, transferring people, we will have to get a lot more non-medical people to do those types of things… I’ve already made an appeal for civil servants to step forward.”
Dr Fong made the comments at an event to farewell an Australian and New Zealand Medical Assistance Team which has been helping the ministry with its COVID response. A second, 17-member team will now build on their work to strengthen infection prevention and control at healthcare facilities, and help establish temporary surge healthcare facilities. Australia will also provide three fully equipped ambulances to help with patient transport, oxygen equipment, stretcher beds, personal protective equipment and GeneXpert machines to boost community testing, and continues to deliver vaccines.
“Frankly, we would be in dire straits if not for the help Australia and New Zealand have given us,” said Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama at today’s event.
For Dr Fong, having the support of the AUSMAT team has been a “huge relief”.
“Our problem was we had equipment, we had space. But it’s creating process efficiencies that were you know, …there was just not enough experience in handling the pandemic for us to secure enough process efficiency, so that we can utilise better the assets that we have. And that’s what they are bringing together with WHO.”
Dr Fong wants more efficient clinical and care pathways before “we start looking at more teams coming in.”
He says the move away from testing primary and secondary contacts of COVID patients to focusing on potential new cases has been difficult, both to communicate to the public and for some of the medical people “to catch because they are used to testing the contacts more. But now we have to reduce the testing on contacts, and just focus a lot more attention on the positive people.”
“It does mean a lot more drive-through places, it means that we have to set up more screening clinics, and we have to pull back the mobile teams that were going out to the street, we have to stop them. Because that that now becomes you know, a difficult area to sustain,” he states.
Care for our most vulnerable
Fiji’s COVID-19 fatalities are overwhelmingly older Fijians. This week, 24 cases were linked to the Samabula Old People’s Home. “The vaccination for the second doses of those people in old people’s home I’m told is just about complete. And that would give us a certain amount of coverage,” Health Permanent Secretary, Dr James Fong says.
He says protocols for aged care health workers have also been escalated.
“We will be having to run them through a gauntlet of testing every four days for the whole time of their stay there.
“We’re intending to keep them there [at the Samabula home], and then after that do a shift change, but every time we do a new lot of staff we have to do the same thing, swab them first, get them to go through at least four days of swabbing.”
In Australia, COVID-19 had a heavy toll on aged care homes. While the Australian and New Zealand Medical Assistance Team concentrated its work on strengthening protocols in hospitals and other primary health facilities, it hasn’t looked at sites such as aged care facilities.
Health Minister Dr Ifereimi Waqainabete says while they’re working to meet the needs of the elderly patients at the Samabula home: “I think it’s important to understand that if you have an elderly in your community, especially at home, that you must protect them, and you must protect them by being able to follow the protocols and making sure that we don’t break our home bubbles.”
More than 377,090 adults in Fiji had received their first dose of the vaccine and 73,127 have received their second doses as of July 14. This means that 64% of the target population have received at least one dose and 12.5 % are now fully vaccinated nationwide.