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World Bank using lessons learnt from COVID-19 pandemic in Eastern Caribbean to improve resilience

WASHINGTON, CMC – The World Bank Friday said that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has disturbed the economic and social well-being of Eastern Caribbean countries that were hit hard by the virus and is seeking to improve health resilience through the pandemic response

The Washington-based financial institution said it had provided critical support by reallocating US$15 million using the Contingency Emergency Response Component (CERC) available through ongoing health projects.

It said these funds addressed emergency response needs, strengthened the capacity of the health system, and supported front-line health workers during the public health emergency.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has disturbed the economic and social well-being of Eastern Caribbean countries. In addition to the health impact of COVID-19, the pandemic’s socio-economic impact has been severe,” the World Bank said.

The World Bank said in 2020, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contracted as much as 16-20 per cent in some Caribbean countries.

“International travel was almost completely halted to contain the spread of infections, which impacted countries within the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) earnings from tourism enormously, as tourism accounts for 35 per cent of GDP on average in these countries and provides more than half of all jobs,” it said.

The bank said non-tourism-related economic activities also contracted due to disruptions in international logistics and supply chains, as well as the implementation of social distancing measures including curfews and business closures.

In addition to the pandemic, OECS countries have had to grapple simultaneously with the impact of natural disasters and outbreaks of other infectious

In April 2021, the La Soufrière volcano in St Vincent and the Grenadines erupted, which further affected access to health services and the economy of the island. Outbreaks of dengue fever also affect Caribbean countries regularly, adding further pressure to their already constrained medical resources.

To address the public health emergency, the World Bank activated the CERC for Dominica, Grenada and St Vincent and the Grenadines, through the ongoing OECS Regional Health Project as early as April 2020, which allowed for the reallocation of US$10 million to emergency response. Additional funds were also provided for these countries from the Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility in November 2020.

“The funding helped countries to strengthen their pandemic response: it allowed them to quickly procure essential pharmaceuticals, medical and laboratory supplies, and equipment. The financing also helped to expand laboratory testing capacity, strengthen health facilities’ isolation capacity, and purchase personal protective equipment and sanitising products,” it said.

“We appreciate all members for their strong commitment to this project, despite the challenges encountered and the increased workload involved in our robust response to the ongoing pandemic and regional public health”, said Dr Lisa Indar, Director of the Surveillance, Disease, Prevention and Control at the Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency Caribbean (CARPHA) during OECS Regional Health Project Advisory and Mid-term Review meeting.

Project Manager at the St Lucia-based OECS Commission, Faith Harry -Jn Baptiste, said “Under the OECS Regional Health Project, significant strides have been made towards the development of an inventory and Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping of emergency and critical care facilities and services, harmonised registration of health professionals.”

She said the project has advanced efforts toward the creation of a multisectoral, multi-hazard emergency preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery mechanism within the region.

The World Bank said as the world is steadily returning to normal, it is capturing lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic in real time to further strengthen health systems. Major infectious outbreaks have the potential to exert a significant negative impact on health systems, as existent resources are diverted toward responding to the outbreak.

The COVID-19 crisis, for instance, resulted in major shortages of medical products, and in an increase in their prices. Many people also delayed seeking care, particularly those with chronic conditions, and shortages in human resources and infrastructure meant the disruption of regular health services, delaying healthcare for many non-COVID-19 conditions. Improving health systems’ resilience to health emergencies has proven key to withstand shocks without major disruptions, it added.

Meanwhile, the World Bank has said that St Lucia has activated the CERC under the Health Systems Strengthening Project, for a total of US$5 million.