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REACH Integrated Service Delivery Scaled Up For Inclusive COVID-19 Responses In Fiji And Tonga

(Suva, Fiji / Nuku'alofa, Tonga) The integrated public service delivery in Fiji and Tonga, better known as the REACH project, is being scaled up with funding support provided by the Government of Japan to assist the government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. The project was officially launched today with Fijian Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, Tongan Ministry of Internal Affairs, Japanese Embassies in Fiji and Tonga and the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

The support will enable the REACH platform to raise public awareness and deliver key services as a one-stop shop while adhering to the government COVID-19 safety protocol. REACH mobile teams consisting of staff from government agencies and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) are being convened to go out to the communities and deliver much needed medical, health, social-economic and legal services.

The REACH project has been serving communities in Fiji since July 2015 and delivered 70,463 social, health, legal and economic services to Fijians (July 2015 till December 2020) with funding support from the Governments of Australia and Japan. In 2020, when the pandemic first hit the country, REACH was repurposed to support the Fijian Government to respond to the COVID-19 situation. Japan, which has been a main contributor to the REACH project with around US$ 2.5 million for the first phase during 2015 - 2018, extended its support for the repurposed REACH programme in Fiji and Tonga. Three ‘REACH buses’ that were provided by Japan in 2017 have been utilised for Fiji’s nation-wide community vaccination campaign this year.

Honourable Rosy Sofia Akbar, the Fijian Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, said that the support for the programme was timely and thoughtful.

“Following the crises triggered by COVID-19 and the recent Tropical Cyclones, many families’ livelihoods, homes and economic activities were severely impacted. There is still a long way to go to provide stability within the family units – which also means that essential services must continue to reach Fijians throughout Fiji for various needs.”

“In order to ensure that services continue to be taken to the Fijians living in the new norm, especially with restricted movements and increased financial challenges we are extremely grateful to the Government of Japan and UNDP for providing the additional support.”

Honourable Akbar added, after the completion of the three-year donor funded implementation, the Fijian Government has continued the support to include the initiative under the Ministry.

“With the success and effectiveness of the REACH project making its mark, the Fijian Government carried on with the project after the completion of the three-year donor funded implementation. This shows the political will to carry this project forward and it has now integrated the project into a programme, receiving an annual budget provision, and the Fijian Government is appreciative to continue the support.

The Fijian Ministry of Women led programme has covered a total of 220 districts (including Rotuma) and reaching out to 1,136 communities (inclusive of villages, settlements and schools). 31,034 (12,056 women, 11,593 men, 7385 children) benefited from the mobile awareness raising and 61,744 (34,686 women and 27,058 men) services were delivered by state and non-state actors.

Following the successful outcome achieved in Fiji and learning from Fiji’s experience, the REACH integrated service delivery model was expanded to Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu in 2019 as a pilot programme with support from Australia, Denmark, UN Women and UNDP.

Honourable Mr Vatau Mefi Hui, Minister for Internal Affairs in Tonga praised the initiative and the result his team achieved through the REACH pilot project.

“Communities in Tonga are geographically spread widely across oceans. Reaching out to communities and delivering public information and services have been a challenge with timely and effective delivery of services. Through the REACH programme, government agencies and Civil Society Organizations teamed up and were able to deliver those services in Tonga’s three main groups – Vava'u, Ha'apai, and Tongatapu, and also ‘Eua.

“Built on lessons learnt, we appreciate the continuation of REACH, to enable us to reach out to the most remote outer islands of Tonga, the Niuas – Niua Toputapu and Niua Fo’ou - and to complete the list of remote villages and outer islands that were not reached during the pilot. We thank this support which will enable us to strengthen our outreach effort further building on the experience and expertise we have gained,” said Hon. Mr Hui.

His Excellency Mr Munenaga Kensaku, Ambassador of Japan to Tonga said, “With the continuous efforts of front liners, Tonga remains COVID-19 free. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our socio-economic lives forever, and Tonga cannot be absent from it. I believe this REACH project is quite relevant and useful for Tonga, the small yet widely dispersed islands' country”.

He commended the efforts of responsible Ministries in both Fiji and Tonga and UNDP in facilitating the project. “I hope that the REACH project will further enrich the partnerships among Japan, Fiji, Tonga and UNDP,” added H.E. Mr Munenaga.

Ahead of the commencement of the community outreach programmes, which have been scheduled to be conducted shortly, tools to support the missions were handed over to the Fijian Ministry of Women Children and Poverty Alleviation by the Embassy of Japan in Fiji. It included canopy tents, tables and chairs as well as personal protective equipment (PPE). Tablet computers with a data collection and management app installed will be delivered separately.

His Excellency Mr Kwakami Fumihiro, Ambassador of Japan to Fiji, said, "The impact of COVID-19 in Fiji and Tonga as well as in the wider Pacific Island Countries has been significant, especially for the disadvantaged and vulnerable members of society." He mentioned that government services had become even more challenging to reach in the remote and rural areas, with stringent movement restrictions.

"In recognition of such challenges and in order to effectively enhance key government services delivery for addressing the growing socio-economic difficulties, Japan decided to assist UNDP's activities through this funding to the REACH Project," said H.E. Mr Kawakami.

The REACH integrated service delivery platform is being rolled out in Fiji and Tonga with COVID-19 safe protocol, targeting communities and individuals vulnerable to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, cyclones and other adverse weather events.

Mr Levan Bouadze, Resident Representative of the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji, said, “The REACH Project has been an example of an effective and impactful approach to public service delivery in four countries in the Pacific. The REACH model has proved most effective and useful in challenging situations like the pandemic and disasters. It facilitates government and civil society response efforts efficiently to reach out to most vulnerable groups.”

“Thanks to this extended support from Japan, the integrated service delivery, going along with governments’ COVID-19 response and recovery measures, will be strengthened in Fiji and Tonga,” added Mr Bouadze.

The ‘REACH teams’ in Fiji and Tonga are identifying the priority areas and groups, and gearing up for effective coordination among agencies and organizations to cater to the specific needs of those most vulnerable groups affected by social and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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