World Bank pandemic bonds will funnel $196 million to 64 poor countries

LONDON (Reuters) - A World Bank pandemic funding programme will see $195.84 million distributed as soon as next week among 64 of the world’s poorest countries that have reported cases of COVID-19 to help tackle the fast-spreading disease, the lender said on Monday.

The World Bank launched a number of instruments under its Pandemic Emergency Financing (PEF) programme after the 2013-2016 Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia that killed at least 11,300 people to provide rapid financing to affected poor countries.

The bonds and swaps came under scrutiny after some failed to pay out during the 2018 Ebola epidemic which killed more than 2,000 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and when they failed to pay out earlier in the coronavirus crisis, which has killed more than 200,000 people and infected nearly three million worldwide.

Funding packages will range from $1-$15 million per country. Heavier weight will be given to countries classified as fragile or conflict-affected, the World Bank said in a statement.

The funds will help countries finance essential and critical life-saving medical equipment, personal protective equipment, therapeutics and medicine, as well as support for health workers on the frontlines of the crisis, it said.

While developed countries are funnelling trillions of dollars into their own virus stricken economies, many emerging nations lack the financial means to mitigate the hit from the global economy tumbling into recession or to shore up their often fragile healthcare systems.

The funds will come on top of the lender’s commitment of $160 billion to fight COVID-19, the World Bank added.

The PEF programme was designed to cover six viruses viewed as most likely to cause a pandemic.

Reporting by Karin Strohecker; Editing by Mark Potter