NUKU’ALOFA, TONGA (23 October 2020) — Personal protective equipment (PPE) and other essential medical equipment provided by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO), transported by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), and financed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), were today delivered to the Government of Tonga to strengthen the country’s capacity to respond to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Prime Minister Pohiva Tu’i’onetoa thanked the UN partners for their continued support throughout the pandemic, noting that while Tonga remains free of COVID-19, Tonga will continue to prepare for the introduction of cases.

The 1.3 million pa'anga ($585,520) worth of medical supplies includes around 1.8 million medical masks, 57,000 KN95 masks, 11,000 face shields, 1,700 protective goggles, and 13,000 isolation gowns. The supplies from WHO include masks, face shields, goggles, and gowns with an approximate value of 717,000 pa'anga. Among these was a large quantity of masks donated to the WHO by the Jack Ma Foundation. The supplies procured by UNICEF include gowns, masks, gloves, goggles, thermometers, pulse oximeters, and oxygen concentrators, with an approximate value of 593,000 pa'anga, thanks to support from ADB.

These essential PPE and medical devices will ensure that frontline health care workers are equipped and protected from potential infection and improve Tonga’s capacity in the clinical management of potential COVID-19 cases.

Minister for Health Amelia Afuha’amango Tu’ipulotu remarked on the important role PPE plays in a country’s COVID-19 response. “Around the world, we are seeing the critical role adequate PPE plays in reducing COVID-19 infections in health workers and first responders. Globally, COVID-19 is affecting health workers at higher rates than the general public. We are doing everything we can to ensure our health workers and first responders have the PPE they need to protect themselves from an eventual case of COVID-19. They are the backbone of our response to COVID-19, and we need to make sure they are protected.”

“Although Tonga remains COVID-19-free, frontline medical workers are most at risk of potentially contracting the virus should it enter Tonga’s borders,” said Senior Country Officer from ADB’s Pacific Country Office Tatafu Moeaki during the handover ceremony. “We will continue to work with UNICEF and our other partners to help the Pacific respond to the pandemic and keep health workers safe.”

The ADB funding comes from a $7.9 million grant to support Pacific Island countries in their preparedness and response plans for COVID-19. To date, the total sum of approved ADB COVID-19 assistance to ADB’s Pacific developing member countries in 2020, including cofinancing resources and technical assistance is about $260 million.

“We are pleased to be working closely with the Government of Tonga, and partners, to ensure that medical supplies will be available during this challenging time,” said UNICEF Pacific Deputy Representative Vathinee Jitjaturunt.

“We have liaised extensively with the Ministry of Health to ensure that donated supplies will meet the identified needs for Tonga,” said Dr. Ada Moadsiri from the WHO Country Liaison Office for Tonga.

The UN Regional Coordinator’s Office representative for Tonga, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Department of Civil Aviation, and Tonga Airports Limited coordinated and provided in-country logistical support.

ADB is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members—49 from the region.

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