World Bank approves $1 billion emergency fund for India

NEW DELHI: The World Bank has approved $1 billion fund to help India prevent, detect, and respond to the covid-19 outbreak and strengthen its public health preparedness. This is the largest ever health sector support from the multilateral lending institution to India.

The fund will be managed by the National Health Mission (NHM), National Center for Disease Control (NCDC) and Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and will cover all states and union territories (UTs). It will address the needs of infected people, at-risk populations, medical and emergency personnel and service providers, medical and testing facilities, and national and animal health agencies.

The fund will be utilised for 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 for district hospitals and designated infectious disease hospitals.

“The project will immediately enable the government of India to scale-up efforts to limit human-to-human transmission, including reducing local transmission of cases and containing the epidemic from progressing further,” the World Bank said in a statement. “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,” the international body added.

India has imposed a 21-day nationwide lockdown till 14 April to limit the spread of coronavirus. Last week, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman had rolled out a ₹1.7 trillion relief package to mitigate the economic damage likely to be caused by the coronavirus outbreak and tackle loss of livelihood of millions of poor hit by the unprecedented lockdown. The relief package, under the newly-framed Prime Minister Garib Kalyan Yojana, aims to ease the financial pain of migrant workers, farmers, urban and rural poor and women.

World Bank Country Director for India Junaid Ahmad said the Bank is working closely with the Indian government to provide urgent and flexible support to the country as it fights the spread of covid-19. “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,” Ahmad said.

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. It will also 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 project will develop capacity and systems to detect existing and emerging human-to-animal contact diseases, support biomedical research on covid-19 by Indian institutions and upgrade viral research and diagnostic laboratories for testing and research.