Toward a Resilient Recovery – Battling the Pandemic in Europe and Central Asia
Tashkent, Uzbekistan (UzDaily.com) -- The emerging and developing economies of Europe and Central Asia have been hit hard by the health, social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 978,000 people have lost their lives and more than 48 million have been infected with the coronavirus to date. Few households or businesses have not experienced major disruption. The World Bank is working closely with countries to help them combat the pandemic and achieve a resilient, inclusive, and sustainable recovery for everyone.
Nyozmoh Mirzoeva, a 62-year-old grandmother in Tajikistan, has experienced extraordinary hardship over the past couple of years. In early 2020, Nyozmoh’s husband, an electrician, died in a work-related accident and, not long after, her son migrated to Russia in search of work as a laborer. Prevented from seeking employment because of a long-term disability, Nyozmoh struggled to support the rest of her family, including young grandchildren.
Compounding the enormous challenges facing Nyozmoh, the COVID-19 pandemic spread rapidly across Tajikistan in mid-2020. Like her family, the poorest households around the country had to significantly cut back on essential needs in order to get by from day to day. Four out of ten Tajik households have reported they were forced to reduce their consumption of food, while one in five families have said they were unable to obtain medical care.
Tajikistan, one of the poorest countries in the Europe and Central Asia region, was among the first countries to receive emergency support from the World Bank to respond to the pandemic. In April 2020, the Bank approved $11.3 million in financial support to help strengthen healthcare capacity, provide emergency cash assistance to poor households, and communicate effectively to the public about how to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The Bank has since provided an additional $21.2 million in financing to further strengthen Tajikistan’s COVID-19 response, help vulnerable households, procure and distribute vaccines, and scale-up earlier interventions.
Like Tajikistan, all countries in Europe and Central Asia have been severely affected by COVID-19. To help countries tackle the health, social and economic impacts of the pandemic, the World Bank has to date committed more than $1.8 billion in overall support to the region.
"Our COVID-19 support to the region has four overall goals – increasing health systems capacity, supporting poor and vulnerable people, bolstering businesses, and procuring and deploying vaccines. By working closely with governments and other development partners, we are helping countries lay the foundation for a more sustainable, resilient and inclusive future," Anna Bjerde, World Bank Vice President for Europe and Central Asia said.
Boosting Health Systems
From the beginning of the outbreak, the first priority of governments has been to protect people’s health. As such, the World Bank moved rapidly with COVID-19 emergency support to governments around the region, including through projects in many countries.
These projects have helped finance the purchase of life-saving equipment such as new intensive care beds, ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE), and also construct new hospitals and expand the capacity of existing facilities.
In Armenia, for example, the Bank allocated $3 million in April 2020, at the request of the Ministry of Health, to address the country’s urgent need for equipment and supplies for the intensive care of people with a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis. In February 2021, Armenia’s health system was given a further boost with $7.4 million in additional financing, allowing over 137,000 people in two underserved regions, Gegharkunik and Vayots Dzor, to access quality medical care.
In Moldova, one of the poorest countries in Europe, the Bank has supported the health system’s response to the pandemic through the COVID-19 Emergency Preparedness and Response Project, which helped increase the number of ICU beds to a total of 430 in 19 designated hospitals – in line with the average number of intensive care beds in European countries.
In addition, essential medical equipment has been procured for 55 Moldovan hospitals where the most complex COVID-19 cases are treated, including 400 oxygen concentrators, 292 artificial ventilators, 20 oxygen generators, 1 million personal protection equipment, 8 ambulances, and many more indispensable pieces of equipment.
In Tajikistan, at the onset of the pandemic, the Emergency COVID-19 Project helped provide around 100 new fully equipped Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds in health facilities, and strengthened the health system’s overall capacity to treat individuals infected with COVID-19. In addition, urgently needed supplies to help detect and prevent COVID-19 were procured, including testing kits, laboratory reagents, and personal protective equipment for medical personnel.
In Georgia, the World Bank was one of the first donors to support the government when the pandemic started. The Bank worked closely with the government and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to design the COVID-19 Emergency Response Project, which came into effect in May 2020. The main goal of the project was to save lives and protect health workers. Numerous medical equipment, tools, diagnostics, and tests were procured and distributed to hospitals throughout Georgia.
In Uzbekistan, the Bank is supporting the government’s effort to strengthen the national health system’s capacity to treat COVID-19 patients through a project that has, to date, procured over 1,115 pieces of modern medical equipment costing approximately $21.5 million. This equipment, which includes ventilators, computed tomography scanners, patient monitors, PCR, ultrasound and X-ray machines, has been distributed among 35 hospitals across Uzbekistan.
In addition, the Ministry of Health plans to procure additional equipment, costing about $20 million, that will allow medical personnel to diagnose and treat patients more effectively.
In Ukraine, the government received $25 million through the restructured Serving People, Improving Health project, to respond to the immediate health emergency. This financing was supplemented with an additional $135 million to support critical hospital upgrades and reforms, as well as provide much-needed training to thousands of Ukrainian doctors.
The World Bank also provided $90 million under the new Emergency COVID-19 Response and Vaccination Project to scale-up Ukraine’s health sector response to the pandemic, support the rollout of vaccination to priority groups among the population, procure vaccines and improve the infrastructure for vaccine storage and logistics.