MB Subba

The World Bank (WB) has committed to provide USD 5 million (M) as support for Bhutan to help prevent, detect, and respond to the coronavirus pandemic and strengthen the country’s public health preparedness.

Finance Minister Namgay Tshering and WB’s acting country representative Tenzin Lhaden signed the agreement yesterday in Thimphu.

The support programme would provide emergency support to enhance Bhutan’s capacity to detect the cases of disease and ensure prompt contact tracing and early warning systems.

It is also expected to help train frontline workers, procure test kits, medical goods and supplies, acquire laboratory equipment, and support laboratory experts.

The Ministry of Health will implement the project.

“We are thankful to the World Bank for the response in a record short period of time, which will help the Royal Government of Bhutan to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and strengthen our capacities to deal with future public health risks,” Lyonpo Namgay Tshering said.

The finance minister said that the support project would help the country equip designated health facilities with personal protective equipment and hygienic materials and increase the diagnostic capacity of laboratories for responding to public health emergencies.

“It will enhance the laboratories to handle harmful infectious diseases and strengthen public institutions to coordinate and better manage response activities,” he said.

According to the WB, the project will also equip designated health facilities with protective equipment and hygienic materials and increase the diagnostic capacity of critical medical services providers as they cope with a potential increase in demand.

The fund would be used for establishing specialized units in selected hospitals, design protocols to increase the availability of hospital beds, and ensure safe water and basic sanitation in health facilities, including the disposal of medical waste management.

WB’s Country Director for Bangladesh and Bhutan, Mercy Tembon, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic is unprecedented, and the World Bank’s rapid response will help save lives across Bhutan.”

She said: “Our support will help Bhutan improve its health infrastructure and equip the country with the resources and expertise it needs to fight the spread of the coronavirus and protect the livelihoods of its people.”

To raise awareness about the risk and potential impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, the project will support communications campaigns across Bhutan. Such initiatives are aimed at ensuring the real-time exchange of information on social distancing measures and promote good health habits and learning about the virus spread, treatment, and prevention.

The project is financed from the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s concessional credit window for developing countries, through the World Bank Group’s Covid-19 “FastTrack Facility”.

The project is part of the USD14 billion (B) fast-track package rolled out by the World Bank Group to strengthen the COVID-19 response in developing countries and shorten the time to recovery.

“All eight countries of South Asia have requested and received this emergency support from the Bank, and we’ve been working closely with the government to ensure support is tailored to country circumstances and meets their specific needs,” Tenzin Lhaden said.