IFC: Getting Developing Countries the COVID-19 Supplies They Need

As countries around the world battle the coronavirus pandemic, a troubling gap has come to light: there simply aren’t enough face masks, ventilators and test kits to go around.

Demand for face masks is estimated to be four times the world’s current manufacturing capacity, according to the World Health Organization. For ventilators, demand is 10 times bigger than existing capacity. Over the next four months, the world is likely to face a shortage of more than 300 million test kits, according to the WHO and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

It’s a worrying trend. Doctors and nurses rely on masks and other personal-protective equipment (PPE) to shield themselves and their patients from infection. Robust testing and the use of PPE by the public are key to helping countries safely reopen their economies.

The supply gap won’t be easy to close. IFC estimates more than $60 billion in investment is required to expand manufacturing and delivery capacity to meet global demand. Of that, $36 billion will be required within the next two years for the production and delivery of therapeutics and diagnostics, as well as a potential vaccine for COVID-19. Around the world, companies are racing to develop a vaccine that can be safely used by humans. But delivering a vaccine to the world’s population will be an epic undertaking. One of the biggest challenges will be getting doses to people in low-income countries.

With that in mind, IFC is launching a $4-billion financing platform to increase the access of developing countries to critical healthcare supplies required to fight the pandemic, including masks, ventilators, test kits and, eventually, vaccines.

The Global Health Platform will provide financing to manufacturers of healthcare products, suppliers of critical raw materials, and healthcare service providers so they can expand capacity for products and services to be delivered to developing countries. IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, will contribute $2 billion from its own account while mobilizing an additional $2 billion from its partners.

“As the pandemic surges in developing countries, access to critical healthcare supplies and services is becoming increasingly constrained,” said Stephanie von Friedeburg, Chief Operating Officer of IFC. “IFC’s new platform will provide a lifeline to these countries while helping them build the foundations for more resilient healthcare systems.”

The financing will be offered to both existing and new clients in developed and developing countries. To ensure the platform benefits developing countries, companies based in developed countries that receive funding must commit a share of their supply to developing countries.

But boosting resilience isn’t just about expanding the access of low-income countries to healthcare supplies—it’s about helping those countries boost their own manufacturing capacity. As part of the platform, IFC will leverage its “Upstream” efforts, which focus on getting involved earlier in the project-development process to create investments. IFC will help developing countries expand their manufacturing capacity by identifying opportunities to diversify production of healthcare supplies, such as active pharmaceutical ingredients, PPE, pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

“By helping developing countries build their own capacity, we are preparing them for dealing with public-health crises in the longer term,” said Tomasz Telma, senior director of IFC’s manufacturing, agribusiness and services industry group. “This will also encourage investment and job creation as these economies recover.”

The health platform builds on the $8-billion fast-track financing facility that IFC is implementing to help keep companies in business and preserve jobs in developing countries. In four months, IFC has committed $3.7 billion of the $8-billion facility to help shore up private sector activity, especially among micro, small and medium-sized enterprises.

IFC’s response is part of the World Bank Group’s effort to take broad, fast action to help developing countries strengthen their pandemic response, increase disease surveillance and improve public-health interventions. The new health platform complements efforts already under way by the World Bank to help developing countries procure medical supplies.

The World Bank is facilitating a procurement program that negotiates contracts directly with medical suppliers on behalf of developing-country governments. Once the contracts are completed, the World Bank makes direct payments to the companies. The program is working with 56 countries, including several low-income nations, with the goal of reaching 98 countries in total.

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