COVID-19 ‘vaccine equity in action’ in the Maldives: a UN Resident Coordinator blog
The roll-out of vaccinations to prevent COVID-19 infections rising in the Maldives is a good example of “vaccine equity in action” according to Catherine Haswell, the UN Resident Coordinator for the Indian Ocean island nation.
The Maldives had reported some 29,000 cases of the virus with 72 deaths up until 29 April.
“The COVID-19 crisis has been difficult for Maldivians, resulting in widespread health and socioeconomic challenges. On 15 April 2020, just two months after my arrival in the country, the capital city Malé went into full lockdown following the first positive case.
As Malé is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, this was an important preventive measure which had been considered in the Government’s advanced planning and preparedness efforts.
It was also to mitigate the spread to the outlying 200 local islands. In many ways, the beautiful island geography of the Maldives has also been a major mitigating factor for slowing transmission.
The closing of Maldivian borders saw a significant economic shock, as international tourism directly accounts for over a quarter of the country’s GDP. The disruption affected children’s learning, jobs, home evictions, and threatened food security due to impacts on the global supply chain.
These surges are, as we know from global experience, a characteristic of the COVID-19 virus which we all continue to face given the very social nature of humankind
The Maldives has fought against a second surge in cases with focused, well-coordinated efforts of the Government, communities and partners, making it possible to ease restrictions, and reopen offices and public spaces by the end of 2020.
Towards February 2021, the country faced a third surge with the virus increasingly spreading out of the capital area to other atolls, causing movement restrictions to be imposed once again up until last month.
These surges are, as we know from global experience, a characteristic of the COVID-19 virus which we all continue to face given the very social nature of humankind.
Last Ramadan was spent confined to our homes and the much-anticipated cultural practices, such as exchanging food with loved ones, were sacrificed for containing the spread.
Now, one year on from the start of the lockdown, Maldivians are observing the second week of fasting while continuing the everyday battle against COVID-19. But there is also room for hope.
With the commencement of the national vaccination drive this year, I am optimistic that we will see the light at the end of the tunnel soon.
Vaccine equity in action
The Maldivian government started the national vaccination programme, “COVID-19 Dhifaau” (COVID-19 Defence) on 1 February 2021, with a goal to vaccinate the entire population against the virus.
Free vaccination is open to all residents and those living in the Maldives, regardless of their nationality or legal status, a fine example of ensuring that no one is left behind on the road to recovery.
To avoid a collapse of the healthcare system and mitigate severe impacts, the initial priority was given to healthcare workers and those on the frontlines as well elderly and other high-risk groups.
Given the dispersed nature of the archipelago, those who work or live away from their family and loved ones will finally be able to reunite without quarantine and COVID tests after over a year apart
Some 278,000 people, roughly over 60 per cent of the eligible resident population have received their first dose of the vaccine. Administration of the second dose is also ongoing, although the process has slightly slowed down due to limited hours available during the month of Ramadan.
Considering that no one is safe until everyone is safe, the Government is also providing free vaccines to undocumented migrant workers in the country. The Maldives’ approach is a good model of vaccine equity in action.
With the successful rollout of vaccines, the Government just announced an easing of travel restrictions between the islands.
Given the dispersed nature of the archipelago, those who work or live away from their family and loved ones will finally be able to reunite without quarantine and COVID tests after over a year apart.
I am personally looking forward to receiving my second dose of the vaccine and being able to talk to the Maldivian people about their challenges, hopes and dreams for the future they want in the communities where they live, across the 871 kilometer length of the country.
These conversations, particularly with the most vulnerable, will be critical for shaping how the UN in the Maldives can support building back better towards decentralized services and more inclusive communities.
UN response and recovery support
The UN team in the Maldives has been steadfast in supporting the Government’s COVID-19 response from the very initial stages of the pandemic. Through joint efforts with partners, the UN continues to provide health and medical equipment with technical support such as trainings and capacity building of stakeholders to control the spread of the virus.
In addition to the immediate health response, the UN is also supporting the socioeconomic response in areas such as ensuring the safe return of children to schools, expanding access to psychosocial support services, and supporting advocacy and community resilience through risk communications.
To supplement the national vaccination efforts, the UN is providing cold chain, supply and storage management for vaccines. Technical support is also being provided in the planning, coordination and training that entails the inoculation process.
As we approach May 2021, the future remains uncertain and with many unprecedented challenges expected in our road to recovery. I am in awe of the commitment and determination of healthcare workers and those who continue to fight on the frontlines.”