World Bank commits US$100-M aid to DOH to fight COVID-19 pandemic

The World Bank has earmarked a US$100-million fast-track loan to the Philippines to enable the Department of Health (DOH) to procure personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers, along with testing and laboratory materials, quarantine areas, isolation rooms and other essential equipment to contain the spread of the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the country.


According to the Department of Finance (DOF), the funds under the World Bank’s Fast Track COVID-19 Facility can be made available to the DOH in a matter of weeks. 


At the direction of Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, a DOF team led by Undersecretary Mark Joven met last week with Mr. Achim Fock, the World Bank Acting Country Director for Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand, to outline possible financing options to help the government address the threat of COVID-19. 


According to the DOH, the virus has infected 187 people and killed 14 in the country as of Wednesday morning.    Six who have tested positive for COVID-19 have recovered from the disease.  


The World Bank, upon Undersecretary Joven’s advice, consulted the DOH to determine if financing under the Fast Track Facility would be responsive to the government’s immediate needs to fight the coronavirus pandemic.


In a letter addressed to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, Fock assured the DOH that the World Bank “would take every step to make procurement as fast as possible, fully appreciating that rapid response in health emergencies is key to limiting the spread of COVID-19 and providing care to those affected.” 


“We appreciate your strong leadership during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and offer our assistance to your Department in the response,” Mr. Fock also said in his letter to Secretary Duque dated March 17. 


Mr. Fock said the World Bank office in Manila is ready with a team of procurement specialists who would be on hand to assist the DOH in acquiring the materials and equipment it needs to fight COVID-19. 


“We recognize that some goods and equipment are currently not available and stand ready to support you in sourcing them as quickly as possible,” Mr. Fock said in his letter. 


According to Mr. Fock, the examples of costs that could be paid for under the Facility include “Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), testing materials and equipment, subnational lab equipment, isolation rooms, and quarantine areas.”


A copy of the letter to Secretary Duque was also furnished Secretary Dominguez, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, Budget Secretary Wendel Avisado, World Bank Group Alternate Executive Director Elsa Agustin, and other officials of the DOF, DOH, National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) and Department of Budget and Management (DBM).


Last March 3, the World Bank announced that it was making available an initial package of up to $12 billion in immediate support to assist countries coping with the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 global outbreak. 


According to the World Bank website, the Fast-Track facility “will help developing countries strengthen health systems, including better access to health services to safeguard people from the epidemic, strengthen disease surveillance, bolster public health interventions, and work with the private sector to reduce the impact on economies.”


The COVID-19 Fast Track Facility will be financed as follows: $2.7 billion from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), $1.3 billion from the International Development Association (IDA), $6 billion from the International Finance Corporation (IFC) (including $2 billion from existing trade facilities), complemented by reprioritization of $2 billion of the Bank Group’s existing portfolio.


It will also include policy advice and technical assistance drawing on global expertise and country-level knowledge.


The Philippines is eligible for US$100 million at IBRD regular terms, with a waiver of the first year of commitment fees. 


As an IBRD member-country, the Philippines is also eligible to receive further financing assistance from IBRD within its normal exposure limits.


Earlier, President Rodrigo Duterte’s economic team unveiled a package of priority actions initially worth P27.1 billion to help frontliners fight the pandemic and provide economic relief to people and sectors affected by the virus-induced slowdown in economic activity.


According to the DOF, this package consists of government initiatives to better equip our health authorities in fighting COVID-19 and also for the relief and recovery efforts for infected people and the various sectors now reeling from the adverse impact of the lethal pathogen.  


Secretary Dominguez, who chairs the Duterte Cabinet's Economic Development Cluster (EDC), said the measures in the package “are designed to do two things: First is to ensure that funding is available for the efforts of the DOH to contain the spread of COVID-19. Second is to provide economic relief to those whose businesses and livelihoods have been affected by the spread of this disease.”