PH seeks $300-M World Bank loan to buy COVID vaccines

By: Ben O. de Vera - Philippine Daily Inquirer | January 03,2021 - 09:07 AM

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines is seeking a fresh loan of $300 million from the World Bank to purchase vaccines for COVID-19, according to documents from the multilateral lender seen by the Inquirer on Saturday.

In response to the loan request made last November, the bank allowed the government to initially use $25 million to $30 million of its $100-million loan to the Duterte administration’s emergency COVID-19 project in April last year, according to one document.

Another document said the amended loan agreement would provide financing support “to the borrower’s (the Philippines) health sector in the purchase and deployment of project COVID-19 vaccines.”

On Dec. 29, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III confirmed and agreed to the amendment, or restructuring, of the April 2020 loan in behalf of the government, the documents said.

The World Bank said the proposed additional financing would be submitted to its Washington-based board for approval during the first quarter of this year.

So far, only $8.15 million had been disbursed from the $100-million loan to procure additional medical equipment and strengthen the health-care system during the pandemic. The loan agreement took effect in May 2020.

“While there were delays during the initial implementation period, there has been significant progress in implementation of activities in recent months,” the Washington-based multilateral lender said.

Equipment purchases

“Significant progress was achieved under component one, with a number of contracts being signed,” it said.

The bank said the contracts were for the purchase of mechanical ventilators, portable X-ray machines, N95 masks, gowns, and gloves totaling $27.2 million, or 27 percent of the total project amount.

Packages for civil works under component two “have progressed to the preprocurement stage,” the World Bank said.

The project’s first component was aimed at strengthening the country’s emergency response to the new coronavirus, while the second component was intended to fortify national and subnational laboratory capacities to prevent emerging infectious diseases.

Among hardest hit

“The current [loan] disbursement stands at 8 percent, but the overall commitment has reached 27 percent. Project disbursements are expected to ramp up and reach at least 35 percent by March 2021,” the World Bank added.

The documents did not cite reasons for the delays in the utilization of the loan by the Department of Health (DOH), the main implementer of the project loan.

According to the World Bank, the Philippine government requested the additional financing last November “at a critical juncture in the [Philippine government’s] response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” noting that the Philippines was one of the East Asia and Pacific countries hardest hit by the pandemic.

It cited a Dec. 22, 2020, report of 462,815 total confirmed COVID-19 cases and 9,021 deaths from the severe respiratory disease. Cases of new infections had declined and were at a “relatively low level,” it said.

“Meanwhile, the development of COVID-19 vaccines are now at an advanced stage and are being rolled out in some countries,” the World Bank said.

It said that it would provide options for vaccine purchase and financing, including direct purchases from manufacturers, either individually by countries or jointly with others.

Some countries could also purchase the excess stocks of other countries or enter into advance purchase mechanisms, such as the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility.

The bank said borrowers who wanted to purchase vaccines must adhere to the criteria it had set for such loans.

“The bank’s COVID-19 vaccine approval criteria are: has been approved by three stringent regulatory authorities in three regions; or has received the WHO (World Health Organization) prequalification and has been approved by one stringent regulatory authority,” it said.

The amended loan agreement included guidelines covering the participation of the military and police in vaccine delivery and distribution, which must be coordinated with the DOH.

The amendment also requires that before the Philippines can distribute or deliver vaccines, the DOH must prepare and adopt a “manual for project COVID-19 vaccine delivery and distribution,” which lists down which sectors will be prioritized for inoculation.

There also must be rules and procedures establishing minimum standards for cold chain, logistics and waste management infrastructure; guidelines in collecting personal data; and vaccine distribution action plan, including a timeline and steps for immunization.

“The borrower shall ensure that the ownership of any assets generated, goods procured, and works constructed by any security or military unit out of the loan proceeds shall be transferred to, or shall vest, with the DOH or any equivalent or appropriate line ministry or agency agreed with the bank,” the amended loan agreement read.

Pandemic-induced recessionOn top of the $100-million loan for emergency COVID-19 response, the Philippines secured also from the World Bank a total of $2.87 billion (about P138 billion) in other loans for programs and projects aimed at lifting the economy from the pandemic-induced recession. The loans were obtained from April to December last year.

These included the two loans totaling $900 million approved in December—$600 million to promote competitiveness and enhance resilience to natural disasters and $300 million additional financing for the national community-driven development project.

Data from the Department of Finance show that the foreign loans and grants obtained by the Philippines to boost its COVID-19 war chest amount to $13.36 billion as of mid-December last year.

For vaccine procurement, the Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB) in December said it was in talks with the Philippines for a $325-million (P15.6 billion) loan under its new Asia-Pacific Vaccine Access Facility (Apvax).

The ADB and the World Bank loans for vaccine procurement will augment the P72.5 billion appropriated in the P4.5-trillion 2021 national budget—P2.5 billion in the DOH’s budget and P70 billion in unprogrammed appropriations.

According to the Department of Budget and Management, the unprogrammed appropriations can only be spent if there were excess revenue collections, new revenue sources, or approved loans for foreign-assisted projects.

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