ISLAMABAD: The Asian Development Bank (ADB) on Friday approved and immediately signed a $500 million loan to help Pakistan procure and deploy safe and effective vaccines for coronavirus disease and strengthen the country’s capacity to implement its vaccination programme.

The loan will support Pakistan’s National Deployment and Vaccination Plan (NDVP) through purchase and delivery of an estimated 39.8 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine, safety boxes and syringes, sufficient to vaccinate at least 18.1 million people from priority groups, the ADB said in a statement.

Soon after the approval of the Covid-19 Vaccine Support Project under the Asia Pacific Vaccine Access Facility, the financing agreement was signed by Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MEA) Zulfiqar Haider and ADB’s Acting Country Director Cleo Kawawaki.

Last month, ECC had called for acquiring donor funding

The signing took place within three hours, on fast track basis, after approval of the loan by the ADB’s Board of Directors earlier in the day. Minister for Economic Affairs Omar Ayub Khan witnessed the signing ceremony.

Late last month, the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet had directed the MEA and Ministry of National Health Services to acquire donor funding for the vaccine procurement to ward off a run-down on the country’s tight foreign exchange reserves.

Under the loan agreement, the ADB will disburse up to $150 million as retroactive financing for already procured vaccines while remaining $350 million will be utilised in coming months for procurement of new vaccines.

“Vaccines help reduce the spread and mortality of Covid-19, restore confidence among citizens, and are vital for the economic recovery,” said ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa. “The ADB reaffirms its full commitment to supporting Pakistan,” Mr Asakawa was quoted as saying.

He said the loan would help protect vulnerable groups in the country and it was an integral part of the development partner package to help the government mitigate the health, social and economic impacts of the pandemic.

Minister Omar Ayub thanked the ADB Management and Board of Directors for extending timely and fast track processing of financial support to Pakistan at this difficult time when the country was facing increasing health-related and socioeconomic challenges amid Covid-19 pandemic.

He committed to ensuring timely procurement of the vaccine with uninterrupted supply chain to meet the target of inoculating people.

The government has been aiming to vaccinate the entire eligible population, around 119 million people comprising all those aged 18 and over, prioritising frontline healthcare workers, the elderly, marginalised groups including refugees and internally displaced persons, and people with comorbidities.

The loan is financed through the ADB’s $9 billion Asia Pacific Vaccine Access Facility launched in December 2020 to offer rapid and equitable vaccine-related support to ADB developing member countries.

The ADB’s assistance will also help strengthen the capacity of the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination, and the Federal Expanded Programme on Immunisation to effectively implement the Covid-19 vaccination programme.

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2021

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