World Bank lends $1 bn to help India fight COVID-19

Akhilesh Suman

File Photo World Bank, PTI

File Photo World Bank, PTI

Hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi consulted Chief Ministers about further steps that needed to be taken to trace, test and treat Coronavirus patients in India, the World Bank on Friday approved a quick loan of 1 billion dollars to fight the pandemic.

Known as the India COVID-19 Emergency Response and Health Systems Preparedness Project, the loan will help the Government meet its funds’ gap and strengthen the public health system by providing funds to buy essential equipment. This is the largest ever health sector support from the World Bank to India.

“This is a very soft loan to India and its payment will span over 30 to 35 years. It will come at a nominal interest and has been given after proper assessment of the intention of positive action on the health front,” said an official at the World Bank, India office in Delhi over the phone.

“While it’s true that the World Bank like any other bank, does not give grants, the type of timely assistance that has come from the multilateral lending institution is really a welcome step in fighting the deadly COVID-19,” a government official said.

The World Bank has said the loan “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.”

During Thursday’s video conference with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, many Chief Ministers demanded increased assistance to meet the challenges posed by the Coronavirus.

From States like Bihar to Haryana, Maharashtra to Telangana, hardly any State was prepared enough to address the outbreak of the disease of such enormity.

The World Bank’s loan is expected to boost Prime Minister Modi’s effort to plug the logistical gap and augment funds for the health infrastructure.

“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,” he added.

The loan will help India procure testing kits, set up 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.

This fund is likely to 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.

Before approving the soft loan, the World Bank examined India response to COVID-19.

Steps taken by India including the quick evacuation of Indians from different locations including Wuhan and Iran was the quickest in the world.

Banning incoming flights and passengers to India was a tough and resolute measure that, despite being resented by even friendly countries like Japan in the beginning, later became a new global normal.

Sealing land, port and air borders was another evidence of India’s determination in a positive direction.

The Janata curfew and total lockdown were more steps that demonstrated India’s resolve to fight the menace.

It is expected that the Government would now be in a more financially comfortable situation to meet the COVID-19 challenge.