World Bank expects to fund $4bn worth of Covid-19 vaccines for 50 poorest nations

The Washington-based multilateral lender has approved $2bn in vaccine financing for 17 countries

FILE PHOTO: A healthcare worker prepares a dose of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at a vaccination centre inside the Blackburn Cathedral, in Blackburn, Britain, January 19, 2021. REUTERS/Molly Darlington/File Photo

The World Bank expects to support 50 poorest nations with $4 billion of financing by the middle of this year to fund the purchase and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines and strengthen their healthcare systems.

The Washington-based multilateral lender has approved $2bn in financing for 17 countries, it said in a statement on Wednesday. Funding packages to developing countries, reeling from the economic shock of the pandemic, are being disbursed on “grant or highly concessional terms”.

“Access to vaccines is key to altering the course of the pandemic and helping countries move toward a resilient recovery,” David Malpass, World Bank president, said. “Our programmes are helping developing countries respond to the health emergency and have financing available for vaccines.”

The financing is part of the World Bank’s $12bn funding envelope over 24 months to help the developing countries acquire and distribute vaccines.

An accelerated pace of vaccine roll out has helped many economies gradually resume economic activity and also led the International Monetary Fund to upgrade its global growth forecast to 6 per cent for 2021 in its World Economic Outlook this month. However, the IMF has urged greater co-operation to ensure affordable vaccines are distributed to all countries to control the pandemic.

The World Bank's vaccine finance package is designed to be flexible and can be used by countries to procure doses through Covax – the vaccine pillar of global collaboration to accelerate the development, production and access to Covid-19 tests and treatments – or through other sources.

The funding can also be used to strengthen health systems, including buying medical supplies, personal protective equipment, vaccine cold-chains, training health workers, outreach campaigns to key stakeholders which are key to ensure vaccination acceptance, the lender said.

The $2bn approved so far has supported mass inoculation programmes in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cabo Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Ecuador, El Salvador, Eswatini, Ethiopia, the Gambia, Honduras, Lebanon, Mongolia, Nepal, Philippines, Rwanda, Tajikistan and Tunisia.

“As the world attempts to carry out the largest vaccination effort in history, we have stressed the need for countries with excess vaccine supplies to release them as soon as possible, and for financing commitments to Covax to be encashed,” Mr Malpass said.

Although the outlook of the world economy has brightened on the back of a faster-than-expected bounce back in some developed economies and mass inoculation programmes, the recovery is uneven and less pronounced in the developing world.

Finances of debt-laden poor nations are already stretched, leaving them little room to rebuild their economies or strengthen their crumbling healthcare systems.

Both the IMF and the World Bank have extended concessional loans and grants to these countries to help them deal with the pandemic.

Earlier this month, the IMF said it is extending $238m of debt service relief for 28 of the world's poorest countries, allowing them to conserve funds for pandemic mitigation measures.

Access to vaccines is key to altering the course of the pandemic and helping countries move toward a resilient recovery

The group of world's 20 largest industrialised nations last year also agreed on a framework to restructure government debt to help poorer countries divert their finances to mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Both the IMF and the World Bank have urged the G20 to further extend its Debt Service Suspension Initiative till next year. The move will allow 73 eligible countries to deploy more cash to fight the pandemic.

The World Bank on Wednesday said its private sector development arm, the International Finance Corporation, is also deploying $4bn through its health platform to increase the supply and local production of essential PPE in developing countries and unlock bottlenecks in emerging markets, particularly in medical equipment and vaccines.

The World Bank is also working with governments and international partners to assess the readiness of more than 140 developing countries to distribute vaccines. While 85 per cent of countries have developed national vaccination plans, only 30 per cent have plans to train the number of vaccinators needed and 27 per cent have put public engagement strategies in place to address vaccine hesitancy, the World Bank’s initial findings show.

“To get a vaccine into someone’s arm, there is a whole system of interdependent actions that needs to function properly,” said Axel van Trotsenburg, managing director of operations at the World Bank, said. “We are working together with the international community and partners to accelerate the rollout of Covid-19 … [which] are a key element in how we return to school, to work and to growth.”