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World Bank, IMF step up support for regional health systems

Health systems in many low- and middle-income countries across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America are strained as they cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Many nations lack the medical staff, equipment and capacities necessary to mitigate the crisis. The risks posed are especially high for hundreds of millions of people who live in poverty or have only recently emerged from it.

While governments and corporations are partnering to strengthen health systems, multinational organizations are also stepping in with financial support. The World Bank expects to provide support in as many as 100 countries.

Across the Middle East and North Africa, the World Bank is already providing financial and technical support and to Djibouti, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, the West Bank and Gaza, and Yemen. Funds are being provided to equip hospitals and medical facilities, and to strengthen health capacities for both detection and treatment.

The World Bank and its partner organizations expect to spend as much as $160 billion over the next 15 months to help countries strengthen health systems, protect the poor and vulnerable, and bolster economic recovery. It is also reaching out to suppliers on behalf of governments to get medical equipment and supplies to where they are needed most urgently throughout the global emergency.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is increasing its lending capacity, which today exceeds $1 trillion, to finance health measures in low-income countries, ease liquidity constraints, protect vulnerable populations and avoid unnecessary insolvencies. The IMF says more than 100 countries are asking for emergency financing.

At their annual spring meetings, held virtually on April 14-17, both institutions said their first priority is to strengthen country health surveillance and response systems to contain the spread of this and future outbreaks. They are also focused on bolstering social safety nets and creating conditions for a sustainable and inclusive economic recovery. The G-20 member countries agreed to suspend debt service obligations, which will free up financial resources for the poorest countries.

The COVID-19 crisis could diminish years of health and development gains in many countries. The leading multilateral organizations are partnering with governments and companies to deploy resources toward public health interventions, nutrition, education and social protection against the immediate adverse effects of the shocks. The economic support from multilateral organisations, along with science and technology, will help our region recover.

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