YANGON—The World Bank announced on Monday a US$50 million emergency loan for Myanmar which aims to support improvements to hospital systems and public health emergency preparedness in the battle against the coronavirus across the country.
The World Bank said the project will focus on scaling up the number of intensive care units (ICUs) at selected hospitals, along with community engagement activities and capacity building for health staff and officials.
Myanmar, one of the poorest countries in Asia, has reported a total of 119 COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday morning, including five deaths. Yangon, the commercial hub of the country, has been hit the hardest by COVID-19, with a total of 91 patients. Making matters worse, 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.
The loan for Myanmar will cover eight central-level hospitals in large cities and 43 region and state-level hospitals across the country, starting with those in the most at-risk areas, such as areas that are densely populated or that see frequent travel and migration, according to the World Bank.
“We will give technical support and advice to improve health care services and disease surveillance and reporting systems, to train frontline health care workers, to encourage community engagement, to maintain public trust and so on,” World Bank Myanmar Communications Officer U Kyaw Soe Lynn told The Irrawaddy.
“But MOHS [the Ministry of Health and Sports] will carry out the actual implementation on the ground,” he added.
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.
“This fast-track financing will help Myanmar fill a critical gap in its contingency plan to urgently increase hospital preparedness and surge capacity in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19, protect health workers and minimize the severity of illness and associated deaths,” said World Bank Country Director for Myanmar, Cambodia and Lao PDR Mariam Sherman.
On April 2, the World Bank launched the support plan for developing countries to “increase disease surveillance, improve public health interventions and help the private sector continue to operate and sustain jobs.” It said it expects to provide up to $160 billion in support over the next 15 months “to help countries protect the poor and vulnerable, support businesses, and bolster economic recovery.”
According to the World Bank, the loan is intended to complement the Myanmar Essential Health Services Access Project (EHSAP) which began in 2015 and supports over 12,000 primary health care facilities in the country.
The bank said that in the fight against COVID-19, they are also using the funds under EHSAP to support capacity building and intensify surveillance and testing across the country, including through ethnic health organizations. The fund supports community surveillance and programs to communicate guidelines and information for health staff, volunteers and the public information.
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