Myanmar Parliament Approves US$50 M World Bank Loan for Health Care Systems

By The Irrawaddy 22 May 2020

YANGON—The Myanmar Union Parliament approved a proposal on Friday to borrow a US$50 million emergency loan from the World Bank to improve hospital systems and public health emergency preparedness in the battle against the coronavirus across the country.

The loan will fund a two-year project that focuses on scaling up the number of intensive care units (ICUs) at eight hospitals in major cities—Yangon, Mandalay and Naypyitaw—and at 43 hospitals in states and regions as well as community engagement activities and capacity building for health staff and officials.

Myanmar, one of the poorest countries in Asia, has reported a total of 199 COVID-19 cases as of Friday morning, including five deaths. The country has experienced decades of underinvestment in public health. Insufficient numbers of doctors and beds are a common problem in hospitals across the country.

Deputy Minister of Health and Sports Dr. Mya Lay Sein said that US$48.5 million will be spent to upgrade ICUs and related equipment, $1 million will be spent on capacity building for health staff and officials and $500,000 will go towards management.

A total of 12 lawmakers participated in debates on the loan in Parliament, mostly pointing out the importance of using the loan effectively to upgrade the country’s ICU facilities and to increase COVID-19 testing capacity.

Minister of Health and Sports Dr. Myint Htwe said Myanmar has received US$5.5 million from the World Health Organization, $0.7 million from USAID, $11 million from the Asset to Health Fund, $6 million from Asia Development Bank loans, $5 million from previous World Bank loans, $7.1 millions from Global Fund and $8.7 million from GAVI for the prevention and control of COVID-19.

Dr. Myint Htwe said the Ministry of Health and Sports is trying to increase the number of COVID-19 lab tests as thousands of Myanmar nationals are set to return to the country from foreign countries in coming weeks. As of last week, Myanmar health officials are now working to test all returnees from foreign countries.

According to Dr. Myint Htwe, as of Thursday, Myanmar has spent a total of 19.46 billion kyats (US$13.8 million) for COVID-19 treatment and prevention.

The World Bank says it will give technical support and advice to train frontline health care workers and to improve health care services and disease surveillance and reporting systems in Myanmar. The loan is part of a fast-track measure announced by the World Bank in early April to help developing countries deal with the pandemic.