THE World Bank (WB) on Wednesday approved a $100-million (P5-billion) loan for the Philippine government’s efforts to combat the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

In a statement, the Washington-based multilateral lender said it greenlit the $100-million loan for the country’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Project, which will “strengthen the essential healthcare delivery system for critical medical services in the face of increased demand in the coming months.”

“Boosting the country’s capacity to respond to COVID-19 will save lives. The government has taken quick and decisive action in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and the World Bank is proud to support its efforts. Right now, no other investment offers greater return,” World Bank Acting Country Director for Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand Achim Fock was quoted as saying.

The bulk of the loan or $82.5 million (P4.19 billion) will go to the first phase of the project which is aimed at improving the Philippines’ emergency health care response against the pandemic.

Around $43.2 million (P2.2 billion) will go to equipping priority hospitals with needed test kits, laboratory equipment, oxygen tanks, emergency beds and medical devices such as ventilators, cardiac monitors and portable x-ray machines.

Another $23 million (P1.16 billion) will go to improving the country’s isolation and quarantine facilities by setting up more isolation rooms, establishing negative pressure isolation rooms, set up decontamination facilities in airports and seaports, and will arrange isolation tents for triaging in hospitals.

The project will also get $16.3 million (P828 million) for the purchase of critical supplies for the health work force such as personal protective equipment (PPE), medicines, medical supplies, support needed logistics, supply chains and ambulance vehicles.

For the second component of the project, $16.5 million (P838 million) will be used to expand the country’s testing capacity, particularly to retrofit Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) and the six sub-national laboratory testing centers.

The remaining $1 million (P50.8 million) will be used for project implementation, monitoring and evaluation.

“All of the project’s interventions are expected to save lives by improving the quality of care of COVID-19 patients and reducing the number of infections. A rough estimate is that taken as a whole the measures under the project will reduce overall deaths by 10%,” WB said.

Taking the lower end of the range of deaths projected by Imperial College London, this implies that the project would save 16,702 lives, which would principally otherwise have been lost in 2020,” a WB document read.

The $100-million loan was sourced from the World Bank Group’s $14-billion fast-track COVID-19 facility which extends aid to developing countries battling the pandemic.

On April 9, the World Bank also approved a $500-million (P25.4-billion) Third Risk Management Development Policy Loan to improve the Philippine government’s capacity to respond to natural disasters and implement recovery programs, including the immediate needs arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Department of Finance (DoF) earlier said it will tap multilateral lenders including the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank for financing worth $5.7 billion to partially fund the national government’s emergency responses to the health crisis. — B.M. Laforga