Given the major and unique impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, preventing transnational public health emergencies and promoting health security are now critical goals for the global community. Although the outbreak of COVID-19 in the Pacific region has been limited compared to that in other areas of the world, the pandemic poses unique challenges for the oceanic continent. The island geography of the region, the limited health systems in many countries, and the communal ways of life shared throughout the Pacific mean that even one case of COVID-19 represents a major threat. The pandemic has also had far-reaching impacts that cut across security and sustainable development, affecting not simply health but economies as well. In response, the Pacific has acted as a region, whether by developing regional protocols or ensuring the well-being of Pacific peoples stranded in nations that are not their own.

Tuvalu’s commitment to enhancing health services aligns with Tuvaluan values of moral responsibility and being a good neighbour (falepili), as well as preparedness (toka) and protection (puipui). In the deeply interconnected Pacific, joint efforts to draw lessons from COVID-19 and carve a coordinated path toward collaboration on health, humanitarian, and economic cooperation will ensure preparedness and protection in the face of future health emergencies.

Ensure that Domestic Health Goals are Achieved Internationally

Establishing Tuvalu as a nation safe and secure from the impacts of diseases of all types involves collective efforts by all nations, international organisations, and civil society. In international forums, Tuvalu promotes domestic health goals and the need for transnational collaboration to address these goals. This promises to reduce the impacts of pandemics like COVID-19, non-communicable diseases like diabetes, communicable diseases like tuberculosis, and vector-borne diseases like dengue fever.

Develop Legal Frameworks to Facilitate Regional and International Cooperation on Health

Tuvalu will develop domestic and transnational legal frameworks and protocols through which the Pacific region and the international community can better coordinate responses to health issues ranging from routine medical treatment to pandemics or health emergencies. For the Pacific, the Biketawa and Boe Declarations, which include health as a national security issue that must be further developed at the regional level, are key to achieving this goal.

Cooperate to Build a Strong Regional Health System

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted major issues with Tuvalu’s health system, as well as the interconnectedness of this system with health systems across the globe, that signal the necessity to focus more attention on achieving better human resourcing for health, better health equipment, and better health services. For example, under the Tuvalu Medical Treatment Scheme (TMTS), Tuvalu’s health services are directly tied to those in Fiji and New Zealand, which accept serious medical cases from Tuvalu, but this system was disrupted when Tuvalu’s borders closed due to COVID-19. For Tuvalu, and the Pacific region more generally, efforts will be made to build a more robust regional health system both physically and digitally, where nations can work collaboratively to protect Pacific ways of life, even in times of border closure.