Covid-19: Pakistan, World Bank in talks for USD 200 million loan
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Pakistan sharply rose to 237 on Tuesday
- Published 18.03.20, 1:52 PM
- Updated 18.03.20, 1:52 PM
- 2 mins read
Cash-strapped Pakistan and the World Bank are in talks for up to USD 200 million in loans to enhance the capacity of resources-deficient 270 public hospitals and laboratories here in the country to control the spread of deadly coronavirus contagion, according to a media report on Wednesday.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Pakistan sharply rose to 237 on Tuesday, amidst conflicting statements by authorities on the nation's first casualty due to the COVID-19 infection.
The Sindh province is the worst-hit with 172 cases, followed by 26 in Punjab, 16 each in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, 5 in Gilgit-Baltistan and 2 in Islamabad, officials said.
Headed by the Planning Commission deputy chairman, a concept clearance committee approved the 'Enhancing capacity for preparedness and mounting response to COVID-19' project on Monday, the Express Tribune reported.
According to the paper, at this stage, Pakistani authorities expect at least USD 140 million in loan from the World Bank, which it wants to enhance to USD 200 million.
After approval of the concept, details of fresh lending and diversion of some of the already approved World Bank loan towards fighting the pandemic will be finalised this week, according to government officials.
"The government of Pakistan and the World Bank are discussing a financial assistance package of between USD 100-200 million to effectively respond to the COVID-19 crisis Pakistan is facing," local World Bank office spokesperson Mariam Altaf said.
The National Disaster Risk Management Fund will also contribute about USD 50 million by readjusting its existing resources, which will take the overall package cost to USD 250 million.
Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Tuesday that if the coronavirus spreads exponentially, Pakistan did not have the capacity and resources to contain the contagion.
Pakistan faces acute deficiency of resources to fight the pandemic and its public health system is not capable of coping with a large number of patients if the virus spreads rapidly.
So far, the Punjab government appears to be the most ill-prepared while the Sindh government has done well. The project has been undertaken to procure equipment and consumables for 200 hospitals, including 44 tertiary-level hospitals, for effective clinical management of the confirmed cases. Personal protective equipment will be procured for 200 hospitals, 10 quarantine sites and 42 laboratories.
The technical review of the project has been undertaken by six public health-sector experts, who have given 15 set of recommendations for better implementation of the project, including identifying the gaps.
They have also recommended that the National Action Plan should revolve around prevention, detection and response since the country is already beyond prevention of primary case. They have suggested that strategies should focus on detection, response and prevention of future cases.
The experts have recommended the use of loan proceeds to subsidise coronavirus testing at private laboratories that are charging Rs 8,000 per test, which is uneconomical for a majority of the country's population.
The World Health Organisation chief has called on countries to ensure maximum testing of the population to curb the disease, which Pakistan has not yet adopted as a strategy due to a lack of facilities and resources.
The experts have also underlined the need for stockpiling of critical equipment and other supplies by the government due to shortages in other countries.
The cash-strapped Pakistan government has been implementing austerity measures to improve the country's finances. In July last year, Pakistan registered a currency reserve of less than USD 8 billion -- enough to cover only 1.7 months of imports.
The International Monetary Fund formally approved a USD 6-billion loan to Pakistan in July 2019, citing "significant" economic challenges. Pakistan has so far received billions in financial aid from friendly countries like China, Saudi Arabia and the UAE during the current fiscal year.