The strain of COVID-19 on vulnerable Pacific services

A young boy using a wheelchair sits outside of his home unders a tree to shade him from the sun.

First of all we hope you are all staying safe during these challenging and unprecedented times!

It has obviously been a tough time for a lot of businesses and organisations including our own. However, our focus as always remains on the development of rehabilitation services and improvement of access to rehabilitation and health services fo all people in the Pacific region.

During this time, Motivation Australia personnel are obviously unable to travel and provide training, mentoring or service development activities as usual, and our Pacific Region partners have also experienced a direct impact on their own services. Many, including service providers in Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Papua New Guinea, have been sent home and all non-essential services closed or significantly reduced.

The Solomon Islands Community Based Rehabilitation Unit, for example, will not be able to reopen until early August, as the Solomon Islands continues in a state of emergency until then. Fiji’s Frank Hilton Organisation report that schools in Fiji are shut until at least the 12th of June – and their physiotherapy and mobility device services are closed until at least that date.

Other countries, such as Tonga, are continuing to work amongst various restrictions on travel. Many of the Tongan Rehabilitation Department’s clients are prevented through police checkpoints, from attending appointments. Some days they have been seeing one client a day.

Several of our partner staff have contacted Motivation Australia personnel to discuss their stress and anxiety at this time. Although many countries have no confirmed cases of COVID-19, the constant ‘bracing’ for the disease, combined with anxiety about their ability to manage the situation, is very stressful.

It is also creating a further strain on the already unmet rehabilitation needs of the people of the Pacific Region, with many people unable to access much needed treatment due to the closures and restrictions. Positively, much like our Australian health workers, our partner staff have also developed their telehealth skills and released more remote content whilst lockdown conditions have been in place, showcasing their ability to adapt to the changing health environment.

Whilst we wish we could provide more support to our partners than we are currently able to give, it is pleasing that many of our partners are reaching out for support, and engaging with us more through email and chat applications. They are supportive of our initial distance mentoring – and looking forward to online training opportunities.

Our goal as an organisation during this time is to continue to provide as much remote content to our partners as possible, as we launch our new website in the coming months we will also be launching with it a number of online lectures on rehabilitation and assistive technology and other online resources.

We look forward to sharing this with you all and thank you once again for your support!

From the MA project team!