The World Bank has sanctioned $1 billion to roll out a COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness Project in India. This includes a $350 million emergency support for scale up of isolation wards, intensive care units, and purchase of testing kits, personal protective equipment, ventilators, and medicines. The emergency funds will be managed by 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.
"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.
The other portion of the committed $1 billion will be utilised to strengthen India's ability to respond to such healthcare emergencies in future. The Health systems Preparedness component will 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.
"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 the government on social protection programs and economic measures that protect the livelihoods of people," Ahmad said.
The project to help India prevent, detect, and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and strengthen its public health preparedness is the largest ever health sector support from the World Bank to India.
In a statement issued on April 3, the Bank said the new support will cover all states and Union Territories across India and 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 project will immediately enable the Government of India (GOI) 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," the statement said.
The funds will be utilised to procure 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. Designated infectious disease hospitals will also be scaled up under the project. It 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 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.
The project is financed from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD). It is part of World Bank Group's $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 World Bank Group's International Finance Corporation is providing $8 billion in financing to help private companies affected by the pandemic and preserve jobs. The other two arms IBRD and International Development Association are making an initial US$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, the statement said.