"Pandemic preparedness will always be about people's access to the most basic of health care systems.”

That’s Dr. Stephanie Williams, Australia's Ambassador for Regional Health Security, on the significance of robustly investing and strengthening public-health systems to reduce the chance of future pandemics.

Without that investment, once-in-a-generation global catastrophes like COVID-19, and its widespread socio-economic impacts, could become considerably more common, she said.

Global Citizen recently spoke with Williams, who also leads health security and vaccine access initiatives with the Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security, about the Indo-Pacific region’s response to COVID-19, how countries like Australia have helped its neighbours and why universal health coverage is at the core of global health security.

Global Citizen: Is Australia doing enough to help combat COVID-19 in the Indo-Pacific?

Stephanie Williams: Since COVID-19 emerged in late 2019, Australia has been side by side with countries in our region. We've offered health and social protection assistance, big economic packages and contributions to other really important bilateral programs that contribute to people's health and well-being across the region.

In 2020, we made contributions globally to CEPI, COVAX and FIND, and announced a $523 million Regional Vaccine Access and Health Security Initiative for the Indo-Pacific. Over $300 million [in Australian aid] was pivoted for health and economic assistance. In 2021, we are providing direct health and financial support in Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Timor-Leste for their COVID-19 outbreak responses. We've just sent a large package of support to India. We're there every step of the way.

Global Citizen: What are the main challenges when it comes to vaccinating people in the Indo-Pacific region?

Stephanie Williams: The first challenge has to be global supply and equity of supply. There are also challenges in the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines and the uptake in the country.

Read the full article about Indo-Pacific countries and COVID-19 by Madeleine Keck at Global Citizen.