COMMUNICABLE DISEASE OUTBREAKS AND RESPONSE
The Ministry of Health has the primary responsibility for declaring and responding to outbreaks of communicable diseases, such as cholera, COVID-19, dengue, leptospirosis, malaria, measles and other notifiable diseases. If activated, the Health Incident Management Team through the National Health Emergency Operations Center (NHEOC) will also support the response. Depending on the situation, a Public Health Emergency may be declared by the Minister of Health under the Public Health Act .
Malaria Outbreaks & Low Childhood Immunization Coverage – July 2022
In the last 15 years Vanuatu has made excellent progress against malaria and was on track for nationwide elimination by the end of 2023. In 2021, there were just 322 cases for an Annual Parasite Incidence (API) of 1.05 per 1,000 population. Of the six provinces, malaria was declared eliminated from Tafea in 2017, with Torba and Penama reporting zero cases for multiple years.
However, malaria upsurges were noted in 2022 with over 500 confirmed cases and transmission re-established in Torba province. On 11 July 2022, the Vanuatu Ministry of Health declared malaria outbreaks in certain areas of the country: North East and West Coast Santo, South East Malekula, Epi Island and South East Vanua Lava (Sola).
Experience from other countries approaching malaria elimination shows that if efforts are interrupted, malaria can quickly rebound back to high levels. This is because there is no immunity against malaria (with no vaccine available), health workers are unfamiliar with the disease, treatment may not be available or prescribed appropriately, and there is complacency to finish treatment.
Vaccination coverage data in Vanuatu for 2021 showed a significant decrease in routine immunization coverage since 2020 for all vaccines. Disruptions related to COVID-19 during the last two and a half years have contributed to this situation as resources were diverted to prepare and respond to the pandemic. The Ministry of Health and partners therefore identified an urgent need to increase population immunity through immunization to avoid any future outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, especially with the elevated risk of measles importation due to global spikes in measles cases.
Health Sector Response
A rapid response to the malaria outbreaks was mounted through NHEOC. This was integrated with response to low childhood immunization coverage (ie. measles coverage of 50% nationwide) given the high risk due to international travel and a global measles upsurge. In order to rapidly access remote and rural populations, integrated health teams were deployed to some areas via the Respond Global HELPR-1 vessel.
Situation Reports for public information are produced periodically by the NHEOC based on reports from Provincial or HELPR-1 Emergency Operations Centers.
Information is provided to the media in the form of press releases as required.
Various health information products have been produced based on identified need. Further materials will be developed and distributed to affected areas as required.
Partners should submit to the Health Promotions Unit any communications materials to be used in outbreak response that include health information. Clearance of the Ministry of Health will be required prior to dissemination of any materials.
COVID-19 Pandemic – March 2020
All information and resources related to the COVID-19 pandemic are available on a dedicated Ministry of Health website at: www.covid19.gov.vu