(CMC)— The Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) Tuesday signed a Euro 30 million agreement with the European Investment Bank (EIB) that will assist borrowing member countries (BMCs) to procure vaccines and other health related supplies as they seek to curb the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
CDB President, Dr Hyginus “Gene” Leon, told the virtual signing ceremony that the funds will allow the BMCs to address critical challenges in their health care systems.
He said that the effects of the pandemic “have been unprecedented and widespread” challenging the development community to come up with innovative solutions that can help the most disadvantaged countries respond swiftly, meaningfully and effectively to the crisis.
Leon said that more than 15 months since the pandemic, the reality remains that less than one per cent of the more than four billion doses of vaccines have been made available to low-income countries, including those in the Caribbean.
“At the current pace and based on issues with procurement and access most low-income countries are likely to achieve mass COVID immunisation, approximately 70 per cent of the population by 2024. This is clearly a major issue for our region, which has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Job losses have reached unprecedented levels, foreign exchange and remittances flows have been disrupted and traditional revenue sources have dried up while governments’ COVID related expenditures have risen sharply.”
The CDB president warned that unless brought under control, the pandemic could undermine “hard won development gains” and stymie efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
He said vaccinations to achieve herd immunity “is crucial if the risk of infection is to be reduced and lives saved and for that matter economies rebuilt safely”.
Leon said that while the BMCs have received vaccines under the COVAX facility and bilateral donations from partners, the optic of vaccines, at least one dose, ranges from 5.5 per cent in Jamaica to 71.4 per cent in the Cayman Islands.
“This less than stellar performance is rooted in vaccine supply issues, costs and vaccine hesitancy in our countries. A global infodemic around vaccines has equally influenced the knowledge, attitudes and behaviours of persons, including our health care workers.
“CDB and the EIB are constantly being challenged to become even more creative in crafting appropriate initiatives to support our member countries. The availability of this 30 million Euros will be critical for BMCs getting more affordable access to safe vaccines and related material, equipment and services for the populations,” Leon said.
He said that the pandemic has “clearly brought home the concept of the global village and we have realised that no one is safe unless everyone is safe”.
He said the current initiative with the EIB is a continuation of that financial institution’s support for the region.
‘Our strong partnerships which have spun several decades is an excellent model of cooperation for achieving shared goals and bringing nations from across the globe together,” he added.
The initiative is part of the Euro120 million climate facility the EIB is providing for the region in order to be better climate resilience and the EIB Vice President, Mourinho Felix Ricardo, said it was necessary for all stakeholders to find “intelligent ways to maximise efficiency and effectiveness of the available public resources, namely by…bringing in private investors.
“EIB Group can help to identify ….and help implement such instruments for the benefit of the Caribbean region,” he said, making reference to the Caribbean Investment Facility “which has made over US$150 million available in grants to compliment loan financing by development financing institutions just as bank.
“In the future, the European Union will work with guarantees to support private sector landing an area where EIB has …experience with our activities in the European Union. We gladly offer to share this experience whenever it may be useful to make the best for our citizens”.
The EIB senior official said that apart from the challenges posed by climate change, the world is also fighting the pandemic and ‘so cruel the virus is, each time we think we are making progress and fighting it” it takes another turn.
“This partnership with the Caribbean Development Bank …will help to protect vulnerable groups against the impact of the pandemic, to reduce the spread of the virus and make sure Caribbean economies can welcome back tourists and make the region a destination of choice even while the pandemic still affects us,” Ricardo added.
He said the concessional funding will ease the burden of pandemic related expenditure and critically will cover the costs of vaccines.