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Defraying urgent vaccine buy

Dhaka seeks to borrow $500 million from AIIB

FHM Humayan Kabir | August 17, 2021 00:00:00

Dhaka has sought US$500 million worth of funds from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) for defraying the buy of COVID-19 vaccine, officials said Monday, as Bangladesh grapples with the virus surge.

The government is expecting the financial support from the Beijing-based lender within this calendar year, 2021, a joint secretary at the Economic Relations Division (ERD) told the FE.

He said: "Bangladesh needs to inoculate all its population above 18 years of age. So, the country will require huge funds in the coming days. Thus, we have requested the AIIB to extend its support to us."

Meanwhile, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) tops the lists in terms of financial help to Bangladesh in vaccine procurement as it has already offered a big sum of $940 million in loan.

In June this year, the Manila-based lender approved the $940-million loan.

Besides, the World Bank (WB) Board in March this year had also offered $500 million worth of loan for Bangladesh for importing vaccines.

Under the ongoing 'COVID-19 Emergency Response and Pandemic Preparedness Project', the WB will help Bangladesh procure safe and effective vaccines, expand vaccine-storage facilities, and distribute vaccines to about 31 percent of its population, in support of government's prioritized plan of covering 40 percent of the population in the first phase of vaccination.

The ERD official said they had been negotiating with the AIIB for borrowing the $500 million for jab procurement over the last couple of months. The loan was proposed to be co-financed with the ADB.

Under the 'Bangladesh Responsive COVID-19 Vaccines for Recovery Project', both the Asian development-financiers (ADB and AIIB) would invest US$1.44 billion, the ERD official said.

Bangladesh is currently struggling with vaccine shortage after starting mass- vaccination drive a week ago as part of the corona combat.

Previously, Bangladesh had faced a setback in mass vaccination when the Serum Institute of India (SII) suspended the supply of jabs against a deal with Bangladesh.

Nearly 1.5 million people were deprived of a second dose after the supply stoppage by Serum Institute, and now being administered with the Japan-provided stock.

Although there have been some steady vaccine supplies in recent weeks from several sources, including China, Japan and the USA, but a high demand from people again outstripped the availability.

According to the official sources, some 22.88 million doses of jabs have been administered in Bangladesh. Of the total, over 15.46 million was administrated as the first dose and 5.43 million given as the second dose.

The government has set a target to vaccinate 130 million people, eyeing 'herd immunity'.

It has already suspended administering the first doze of the Moderna vaccines as the supply is stopped.

Administering AstraZaneca jabs was resumed lately after a long gap with a 3-million fresh stock sent by Japan under Covax facilities, managed by the World Health Organization.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Dr Zahid Maleque Sunday said the mass-vaccination campaign was not being restarted at the moment due to inadequate supply of the much-needed antidote, while the coronavirus stayed at high altitude.

Health department recorded 6,959 more confirmed cases along with 174 deaths in the last 24 hours ending at 8:00am Monday.

On a note of optimism, the minister said they would resume the immunisation activities in both urban and rural areas once they will have enough supply of the vaccines to prevent the transmission of the highly contagious virus.

"We've to make plans differently if we have not enough supply of jabs. So, it (mass inoculation) depends on availability of the doses," Mr Maleque told reporters after attending a programme in observance of the national mourning day at the auditorium of Bangladesh College of Physicians and Surgeons (BCPS) in Dhaka on Sunday.

Another ERD official Monday said: "We are working to ensure adequate funds for procuring the vaccine. So, we have already requested WB, ADB, Japan, and AIIB for extending their support."

Bangladesh will require more than $2.0 billion worth of funds for inoculating its nearly 130 million adult people, he added.

They are hopeful of getting more support from the development partners in addition to the commitment they had.

"We are expecting to sign the proposed $500 million loan deal with AIIB by December this year," the ERD official said.

Experts suggest the government should inoculate the people as quickly as possible to create safeguards against the pandemic, which has upended normal order across the planet.

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