Joanne Mariasua joined the Vanuatu Ministry of Health just over a year ago. Today she is responsible for managing the Surveillance Unit in the Public Health Department.
As COVID-19 spread across the world and started to impact some of the Pacific Island countries in early 2020, Joanne’s role became increasingly important. The Government of Vanuatu prioritised their national response plans in the event the country recorded positive COVID-19 cases.
“I am currently the Acting Manager in the Surveillance Unit which helps to strengthen the national capacity to detect, manage and respond quickly to an outbreak or sudden rise in incidence of any important public health event of international concern. The current COVID-19 pandemic is our main focus.”
Working in the Surveillance Unit has provided Joanne with the opportunity to protect communities and individuals from the potential spread of a disease. Joanne says monitoring quarantine travelers was a challenge as it was a new aspect of her surveillance role.
“It was not easy as we had to physically do daily checks on travelers who were returning from low-risk and high-risk countries of COVID-19.”
Despite being new to the role and to the emergency response, Joanne was able to adapt quickly.
“I had to learn a new process which wasn’t easy, but I love a good challenge and I have learnt a lot in a short period of time.”
Although Vanuatu has not recorded community transmission and is currently a COVID-19 safe country, Joanne is at increased risk of catching any communicable disease including COVID-19.
“Because frontline workers undertake responsibilities in areas such as quarantine hotels, airport repatriation arrival checks, providing bus services, and doctor-patient care, we are more likely to be infected by the virus. Additionally, there is a higher risk of transmitting the virus to a large number of people in a limited period of time.”
Like many other frontline health workers, Joanne was worried initially.
“I remember fear was my initial thought as little was known about the virus. The Vanuatu Ministry of Health along with its partners has continued to make prudent decisions in a timely manner so my fear has since changed to confidence.”
Joanne is confident that prevention measures and preparation strategies have helped to ensure that Vanuatu has had no cases of community transmission.
Vanuatu receives first batch of COVID-19 vaccines
When Vanuatu received its first batch of 24,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses on 19 May 2021, Joanne was one of the first frontline health workers to be vaccinated.
Now she is encouraging those who are eligible to get vaccinated.
“We cannot stress enough how important it is to get vaccinated. Vaccination is not a new process, newborns get vaccinated all the time. We need to be able to critically think about our families and friends who surround us and ask ourselves, what will happen if I am a carrier of the virus and I am not vaccinated?”
She adds, “Right now, we should learn from other countries and understand how COVID-19 is affecting them. The virus does not discriminate so we should be prepared by getting ourselves vaccinated”.
About the COVAX Facility
The vaccines were delivered by UNICEF through the COVAX Facility, co-led by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organization, CEPI and UNICEF.
UNICEF will continue to work together with its partners to ensure health workers in the Pacific like Joanne have access to COVID-19 vaccines.