Covid-19: WHO seeks debt relief for developing countries

As the coronavirus pandemic enters its fourth month, the World Health Organization(WHO), has asked the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to grant debt relief to developing countries.

The Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus, in a press conference on Wednesday said developing countries would struggle with social welfare programs in this period.

“Many developing countries will struggle to implement social welfare programmes of this nature. For those countries, debt relief is essential to enable them to take care of their people and avoid economic collapse.

“This is a call from WHO, the World Bank and the IMF – debt relief for developing countries,” he said.

He said it is important to ensure that countries are well equipped to detect, test, isolate and treat cases, and identify contacts.

“I am encouraged to see that this is occurring in many countries, despite limited resources,” he said.

Many countries are asking people to stay at home and shutting down population movement, which can help to limit transmission of the virus. Mr Ghebreyesus said the shutdown can, however, have unintended consequences for the poorest and most vulnerable people.

“I have called on governments to put in place social welfare measures to ensure vulnerable people have food and other life essentials during this crisis,” he said.

In India, for example, Prime Minister Modi announced a $24 billion package, including free food rations for 800 million disadvantaged people. Cash transfers to 204 million poor women and free cooking gas for 80 million households for the next 3 months.

Mr Ghebreyesus expressed deep concern over the rapid escalation and global spread of the infection.

He said over the past five weeks, the world has witnessed a near exponential growth in the number of new cases, reaching almost every country, territory and area.

“The number of deaths has more than doubled in the past week. In the next few days we will reach 1 million confirmed cases, and 50 thousand deaths,” he said.

While relatively lower numbers of confirmed cases have been reported from Africa, and from Central and South America, we realize that COVID-19 could have serious social, economic and political consequences for these regions.

Three months ago, we knew almost nothing about this virus. Collectively, we have learned an enormous amount, and every day, we learn more.

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