Health

International banks step in to help Central Asia mitigate coronavirus crisis

Caravanserai

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A medic April 1 outside Bishkek checks a man's temperature, as the city is on lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19. [Vyacheslav Oseledko/AFP]

MANILA, Philippines -- International financial institutions are offering their aid to Central Asia as the world battles the coronavirus pandemic.

Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Masatsugu Asakawa and Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov on April 3 discussed by phone how the ADB could step up its support for the Kyrgyz response to the pandemic, the ADB said in a statement.

Kyrgyzstan had 216 confirmed cases, including four deaths, as of Monday (April 6).

Jeenbekov and Asakawa in their conversation discussed various areas of co-operation, 24.kg reported, citing Jeenbekov's press office.

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Firefighters wearing face masks March 27 in Bishkek spray disinfectant on streets to fight the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. [Vyacheslav Oseledko/AFP]

Jeenbekov expressed gratitude for the ADB's support in developing the Kyrgyz economy and fighting the coronavirus. The situation now requires "consolidation of efforts and the implementation of joint anti-crisis measures", he said, according to 24.kg.

Asakawa commended Jeenbekov for Kyrgyz fiscal measures, including cash transfers to the poor, and timely National Bank of the Kyrgyz Republic policies meant to maintain liquidity in the private sector, according to the ADB statement.

"[The] ADB recognises that the coronavirus pandemic is a significant threat to lives, livelihoods, and the entire economy of the Kyrgyz Republic," said Asakawa. "We ... will do everything possible to help the government and businesses overcome the social and economic impacts of this pandemic."

Preventing further contagion

The ADB has approved $200,000 (17 million KGS) in emergency medical aid to help Kyrgyzstan obtain medical supplies and equipment.

In addition, the ADB will make further grants and loans available to strengthen Kyrgyz medical care.

The World Bank (WB) extended aid to Kyrgyzstan last week as well.

On April 2, its board of directors approved $12.15 million (1 billion KGS) in aid to the Kyrgyz Republic Emergency COVID-19 Project, the WB said in a statement.

In addition, the WB will reallocate $9 million (763.8 million KGS) from an ongoing WB project "to support the country's efforts to prepare for and respond effectively to the health and social risks associated with the global COVID-19 pandemic".

"The purpose of the Emergency COVID-19 Project is to save lives and prevent further contagion," said Bolormaa Amgaabazar, World Bank country manager for the Kyrgyz Republic.

"The funding will support the Kyrgyz Republic's Contingency Plan for COVID-19, including provision of appropriate preventive measures, procurement of essential medicines, supplies and equipment, minimisation of risks for frontline health workers, and treatment of patients," Amgaabazar added.

The initiative will help the country buy intensive care unit (ICU) equipment along with supplies to establish or renew 10 eight-bed fully equipped ICUs in designated hospitals, according to the WB. Those supplies include mechanical ventilators, cardiac defibrillators and other essential equipment.

Another 20 ICUs and 100 isolation rooms in 24 hospitals around the country will undergo emergency repairs to ensure patient and staff safety, said the WB.

Grant support for Uzbekistan

The ADB aided Uzbekistan last week as well.

As of April 6, Uzbekistan had 390 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including two deaths.

On April 1, Asakawa and Uzbek Deputy Prime Minister Sardor Umurzakov discussed by phone the ADB's support package for the Uzbek fight against the pandemic.

"[The] ADB is fully committed to supporting Uzbekistan at this extraordinarily challenging time by mobilising financing to combat the spread of the outbreak, supporting entrepreneurs and employment, expanding social support, and ensuring the economy continues to function sustainably," said Asakawa, according to an ADB statement.

"[The] ADB has approved $200,000 (1.9 billion UZS) in grant support to immediately address medical needs," he said.

The ADB will offer policy advice and "reallocate loan savings" to help Uzbek medical care, Asakawa added.

Umurzakov expressed appreciation for the ADB's continued support.

Asawaka commended the Uzbek government for acting early to fight the pandemic. Its speedy response will reduce the time needed for economic recovery, he said.

The ADB's anti-coronavirus measures date back to March 18, when it announced an "initial package of approximately $6.5 billion" to meet its developing member states' immediate needs.

Aid for Tajikistan

Meanwhile, the WB is helping Tajikistan, a country that has not reported any cases of coronavirus.

The WB on April 2 approved $11.3 million (115.4 million TJS) in grants to help Tajikistan prepare for and respond to the pandemic, the organisation said in a statement that day.

The funding will help establish about 100 new intensive care unit beds in health facilities nationwide and will strengthen Tajik ability to treat coronavirus patients.

In addition, the funding will enable Tajikistan to buy a variety of laboratory and medical supplies for detecting and treating coronavirus.

"This project will help the country's efforts to undertake preventive actions, protect its healthcare staff, and decrease, where possible, rates of COVID-19 cases, while protecting the poor and most vulnerable, especially children," said Jan-Peter Olters, WB country manager for Tajikistan.

The WB aid will finance public information on the pandemic and on preventive measures like hand-washing. It will also provide emergency cash transfers to the needy, mainly targeting food-insecure families with small children, if they cannot afford higher food prices.

Such transfers could reduce the risk of malnutrition among families during the pandemic.

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I am very grateful that help is provided to us in Uzbekistan during this hard time

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They can keep their peanuts; it's even funny

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