World Bank creates fund to better prevent, respond to pandemics

The fund will support prevention, preparedness and response (PPR), with a focus on low- and middle-income countries, the bank said in a statement.

FILE: Children wearing protective face masks arrive at school on 7 September 2020 in Zagreb. School started in Croatia today with the implementation of epidemiological measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: AFP.

WASHINGTON, UNITED STATES - The World Bank's board on Thursday approved creation of a fund meant to finance investments in strengthening the fight against pandemics.

The fund will support prevention, preparedness and response (PPR), with a focus on low- and middle-income countries, the bank said in a statement.

"The devastating human, economic, and social cost of COVID-19 has highlighted the urgent need for coordinated action to build stronger health systems and mobilize additional resources," it said.

The World Bank added that the fund, which it aims to open later this year, was developed under the leadership of the United States, Italy and Indonesia as part of their G20 presidencies, and with broad support from the G20.

It will be used in a number of areas, including disease surveillance, with more than $1 billion in commitments already announced.

"The World Bank is the largest provider of financing for PPR with active operations in over 100 developing countries to strengthen their health systems," World Bank President David Malpass said in the statement.

The so-called financial intermediary fund (FIF) will provide financing to "complement the work of existing institutions in supporting low- and middle-income countries and regions to prepare for the next pandemic," the World Bank said.

The World Health Organization is a stakeholder in the project and will provide technical expertise, its president Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

US President Joe Biden said more than 1 million Americans and millions of people around the world have lost their lives to COVID-19, underscoring the importance of boosting investment in pandemic preparedness.

"When it comes to preparing for the next pandemic, the cost of inaction is greater than the cost of action," Biden said in a statement late Thursday. "Investing in preparedness now is the right thing and the smart thing to do."

In a separate statement earlier in the day, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen called the fund "a major achievement that will help low- and middle-income countries be better prepared for the next pandemic."

"Even as we continue to work to end COVID-19, today's decision by World Bank shareholders will help bolster capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to future pandemics," she said.

A spokesperson for the World Bank told AFP that if the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing when the fund is implemented, it could be used to provide support against the current as well as future pandemics.