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Besides Covid, Pacific islands are battling other disease outbreaks

By Pacific Island Times News Staff

The French Development Agency provides the Pacific Public Health Surveillance Network with an EUR 2 million package of emergency financial support, designed to strengthen the epidemic surveillance and response capacity of 12 Pacific island states and territories in crisis situations such as Covid-19, but also for dengue fever or any other emerging disease. Photo courtesy of SPC

Long before Covid-19 emerged, the Pacific island states and territories have been grappling with the burden of infectious and non-communicable diseases that further strain their weak health care systems.

According to the Pacific Community (SPC), the epidemic risk of communicable diseases in the region is exacerbated by the impacts of climate change.

Treating diseases is a heavy burden for small Pacific islands due to the lack of infrastructure, equipment and qualified staff, SPC said.

Eleven states and territories under SPC's banner have a total of 126,995 Covid-19 cases as of Sept. 13. The number has increased since SPC posted its last update.

The top five in the region with the largest numbers of coronavirus infections are Fiji (49,113), French Polynesia (44,890), Papua New Guinea (18,412), Guam (12,553) and New Caledonia (1,286).

Other than Covid-19, certain diseases linger in some Pacific islands.


  • DENV-2 in Wallis and Futuna: One new case, imported from Futuna, has been reported in Wallis in week 35. There has been no case reported in Futuna in weeks 34 and 35. In 2021, there have been 68 confirmed dengue cases reported in Wallis and Futuna (63 in Futuna and 5 in Wallis).

  • DENV-2 in Vanuatu: Laboratory results have confirmed dengue serotype 2 circulating in Vanuatu. The red alert is updated on the map.

Hepatitis A

  • New Caledonia: Hepatitis A outbreak is still ongoing; 422 cases were reported between Jan. 1 and Sept. 6 in comparison to 100 cases reported in 2020 and five cases in 2019.

Meningococcal Meningitis

  • Vanuatu: One case of meningococcal meningitis has been confirmed by laboratory testing on Aug. 20, which brings to a total of two cases within Efate island in the period from January to August.

Chickenpox (Varicella virus)

  • Marshall Islands: The Ministry of Health and Human Services reported an increase in the number of chickenpox over the past few weeks; including nine cases in Majuro, eight in Ebeye and two on Lib.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)

  • New Zealand: An outbreak of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is currently ongoing across New Zealand. Weekly numbers reported by the national virus laboratory network started increasing sharply in June and are currently decreasing, 146 cases are reported for week 34 ending Aug. 29. The total number of cases is 6,116.


Last week, the Northern Marianas reported an increased circulation of RSV in the community, up 71 percent compared to the week before.

RSV cases usually increase late in the year, but the Commonwealth Health Care Center is seeing an early spike similar to many states in the U.S.

Since late March, the U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention Control has observed an increase in RSV detections reported to the National Respiratory and Enteric Virus Surveillance System, a nationwide passive, laboratory-based surveillance network.

RSV causes a mild illness with cold-like symptoms, such as a runny nose, decrease in appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever, and wheezing. But for some children, especially infants and toddlers or those with risk factors like premature birth, it can cause breathing problems.

Officials said like many illnesses, the best prevention of spread is good hand hygiene, staying home if you are sick, and keeping your children home if they are sick.

Supportive care at home includes hydration, gentle suctioning to clear mucous from the nose, and fever control with acetaminophen (Tylenol) and/or ibuprofen(ibuprofen only for six months old and above).

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