World Bank approves $1 bn for India’s COVID-19 fight

The World Bank has approved a $1 billion funding to India to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic and strengthen its public health preparedness. The fund has been sectioned under the India Covid-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness Project. It is the bank’s largest support to India’s health sector, and will cover all states and union territories. The fund will help address measures for prevention, detection, as well as for responding to the needs of the infected people.The National Health Mission (NHM), the National Center for Disease Control (NCDC) and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare will jointly manage the fund. The project will immediately enable the Indian government to scale-up efforts to limit human-to-human transmission, including reducing local transmission of cases and containing the epidemic from progressing further.

In parallel, interventions to strengthen the health system will be rolled out to improve the country’s capacity to respond to the COVID-19 epidemic and be better prepared to respond to emerging disease outbreaks, including transmission between humans and animals.Procurement of testing kits; setting up of new isolation wards — including turning hospital beds into intensive care unit beds; infection prevention and control; and purchase of personal protective equipment, ventilators, and medicines, particularly in district hospitals and designated infectious disease hospitals will be scaled up under the project.

“The World Bank is working in close partnership with the Government of India to provide urgent and flexible support to the country as it fights the spread of COVID-19,” said Junaid Ahmad, World Bank Country Director for India.“This operation is expected to enhance surveillance capacities, strengthen diagnostic systems, and expand the capacity of laboratories. But, COVID-19 is not only a health challenge. It has deep social and economic implications. In parallel, we are working with equal urgency with Government on social protection programs and economic measures that protect the livelihoods of people.”

The project will also enhance the resilience of India’s health system to provide core public health prevention and patient care to better manage COVID-19 and future disease outbreaks, the World Bank said in a statement.It will help strengthen India’s Integrated Disease Surveillance Program, revamp infectious disease hospitals, district, civil, general and medical college hospitals, and build a network of high containment biosafety level 3 laboratories, the statement said.

Today, about 75 percent of new infectious diseases begin with human-to-animal contact, including HIV/AIDS, Ebola, and SARS. The project will develop capacity and systems to detect existing and emerging zoonoses, support biomedical research on COVID-19 by Indian institutions, and upgrade viral research and diagnostic laboratories for testing and research.It will also help address potential significant negative externalities in the event of a widespread COVID-19 outbreak, including comprehensive health awareness and behavior change campaigns on hygiene practices, wearing masks, social distancing, and mental health and psychological services for vulnerable communities, the World Bank said.

The project is financed from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) in the amount of $1 billion, of which $350 million is provided through the World Bank Group’s COVID-19 Fast-Track Facility.The World Bank Group is rolling out a $14 billion fast-track package to strengthen the COVID-19 response in developing countries and shorten the time to recovery. The immediate response includes financing, policy advice and technical assistance to help countries cope with the health and economic impacts of the pandemic.

The IFC is providing $8 billion in financing to help private companies affected by the pandemic and preserve jobs. IBRD and IDA are making an initial $6 billion available for the health-response.As countries need broader support, the World Bank Group will deploy up to $160 billion over 15 months to protect the poor and vulnerable, support businesses, and bolster economic recovery, it said.

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