Ukraine, like the rest of the world, is grappling with the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. Although the country has yet to experience the crippling impacts this outbreak has brought to other parts of the world, the number of cases in the country was already above 18,600 at the mid-May. Among the most worrisome trends now emerging is the high number of medical workers being infected.
A lack of personal protective equipment for frontline health workers in Ukrainian hospitals - along with a lack of knowledge on how best to treat victims of this novel virus - has hindered the country's overall medical response and has led to above 3,600 medical workers being infected with COVID-19.
As the situation rapidly escalated, policy makers in the country looked to their international development partners for support in these unprecedented times -- a call that was immediately answered by the World Bank. Throughout April, a number of actions were put into motion to respond to the needs of patients and health care providers alike.
The first move, in early April, was to restructure $22 million from the ongoing Serving People, Improving Health Project to help the Ukraine's government buy materials and equipment essential to responding to COVID-19. This money will also go toward providing needed training for medical personnel, supporting communication of essential information, and reimbursing health care providers treating COVID-19 patients.
These crucial steps were soon supplemented by the infusion of additional financing to help Ukraine scale-up its response to the pandemic. On April 27, the World Bank approved an additional loan of $135 million to support reforms in Ukraine's health care system. This will be used for important hospital upgrades and reforms and to help train thousands of doctors in the provision of modern medical services. The project will also help fund people's medical needs -- from the state budget -- and provide $35 million for COVID-19 emergency response activities. A minimum of 242 hospitals and 25 emergency service centers will receive support from these restructuring and additional financing initiatives.
"We were able to attract an additional $135 million from the World Bank, of which $35 million will be used to fight COVID-19," said Ukraine's Health Minister Maksym Stepanov during an April 28 briefing. "In particular, $20 million will be used to purchase materials and equipment, and $15 million will be used to additionally finance medical facilities to counter COVID-19."
These initiatives are part of broader World Bank efforts to increase disease surveillance, improve public health interventions, and help the private sector continue to operate and sustain jobs. Over 15 months, the World Bank will be deploying up to $160 billion in financial support to help countries protect the poor and vulnerable, support businesses, and bolster economic recovery.
Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, the Serving People, Improving Health Project had been instrumental in improving health outcomes and supporting people in need of vital clinical services around the country for more than four years. Since its approval, 52 general practice and family medicine outpatient clinics have been reconstructed in the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, along with 10 in the Rivne region. During this same period, nearly 21,000 health care personnel have received training to help reduce the average in-patient stay from 11.7 days to 9.5 days.
The project has also exceeded its original target of ensuring that 55% of all primary health care facilities meet equipment norms for improved management of cardiovascular diseases -- with nearly 70% of all facilities now meeting this goal.
The ongoing successes of the project made it an ideal candidate for restructuring and additional financing once the unprecedented impacts of the COVID-19 began. The allocation of new funds and the restructuring of others will help the country build on these past successes to secure a healthier future. This is supporting Ukraine, its medical professionals, and their critical mission: to save as many lives as possible.