Novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) is having devastating impacts globally. As of 26th March, 414,179 confirmed cases and 18,440 deaths have been recorded across 178 countries. To date, the Pacific has confirmed cases in Guam, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, , Fiji, PNG, and suspected cases in Samoa.
For the Pacific, COVID-19 presents a range of contextual challenges including multiple islands, vast distances and limited resources. In most Pacific countries, access to quality health services including intensive care is limited. Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) including cardiovascular diseases and chronic respiratory diseases, represent the single largest cause of premature mortality in the Pacific. Food security and livelihoods are particularly vulnerable to shocks due to semi-subsistence lifestyles and a high reliance on the informal sector for income.
A COVID-19 outbreak in the Pacific could disproportionately affect women and girls in a number of ways including adverse impacts to their education, food security and nutrition, health, livelihoods, and protection. Women are the primary care givers in the family and are key health care frontline responders placing them at increased risk and exposure to infection. Maternal and sexual reproductive health needs continue in an emergency but risk being de-prioritised. COVID-19 risks increasing women’s workloads, caring for children as schools close and the sick. Additionally, there is a risk of increased family violence in a region where pre-existing rates of violence against women are already very high.
Men’s gender roles and norms need to be taken into account in order to ensure that men are properly targeted to help reduce their vulnerability to illness and to leverage their roles as leaders and decision makers in the home and in the community to help prevent the spread of the disease.