What we’re trying to do is to ensure that the cycles of panic
and neglect get broken with the COVID-19 response. On today’s episode of Expert Answers,
we’re talking about the coronavirus – or what specialists call COVID-19. Over the past few weeks, the virus has spread to more than sixty countries and territories, infecting tens of thousands of people, and leaving three thousand people dead. Now this week, as fears have grown
about how the outbreak could effect global growth, The World Bank Group announced a massive support package valued at up to twelve billion dollars to assist countries who are responding to,
or preparing to respond to the outbreak. To hear more about the human cost and the health care systems that are under
tremendous pressure – especially in developing countries – I spoke to the World Bank Group’s global director
for health, nutrition, and population, Dr. Muhammad Pate. Muhammad, let’s jump right into it. The bank announced this package valued at up to twelve billion. How can that money be spent effectively? -So, this outbreak as it is unfolding, it’s moved from where it was primarily
in China to countries that are less strong in terms of their health systems, and
more vulnerable to an outbreak such as COVID-19. And the bank’s support is really geared to help those countries
be able to better detect the virus when it hits their shores – – do the case-finding, diagnose it, but also equip the
frontline health workers both with knowledge but also with the tools to be able to respond adequately. That will be key to containing this outbreak before it also
then gets established within their populations. –Spreads further within the populations. Geographically speaking, where are you most concerned? Where is the greatest need for support and help both now but also as this outbreak develops
and changes over the coming weeks and months? There are parts of the world, the virus is all over the world. And yet there are some geographies where it’s not really… -Established yet?
-Established yet. because they have not been able to diagnose it or the virus may not have reached them yet. So those are the areas where we need to support them to prepare before the virus hits them. Or if the virus is there, for them to detect where it is. -So it can best defended against it. -Exactly. And then be able to target interventions so that they can then be able to
respond adequately. And on that, the kind of map of it right now, obviously China has been hit hard by it but it’s also in a bunch of high-income countries. If and when it spreads to low and middle-income countries, what are the sort of, unique vulnerabilities of these countries compared to what maybe we have seen so far? So this virus, what it is showing us is that even high-income countries are not really as prepared as they should be as we have seen in some of the countries in Europe but other places as well. But the poorest countries are likely
to be more vulnerable to it, In terms of their preparedness,
but also their capability of their health systems to deal with the consequences of it. Because not every country is able to stand up a response like China did… -Right. -in terms of even its health care system. If I am not mistaken, you were a health minister in Nigeria before, is that correct? -Yes. What are those countries doing now? What do they need to be doing now to prepare before this virus arrives on their doorstep? So in Africa, in particular, after the 2014 outbreak several things have happened. In the case of Nigeria, we invested quite a bit
in terms of the public health system… but also the management structure. So we developed an emergency operations center which helped when ebola came into being. But several institutions have come to be: the African Center for Disease Control and many national public health institutions have been developed, and the World Bank is supporting them. And that is going to make an important difference when African countries are responding to this. Let’s talk a little about that support, let’s get into the details. So, I think something that gets maybe a little bit lost beneath the headlines… A lot of people see the money, they see the figure, it’s a big number but the World Bank is also providing technical assistance, and technical support. What exactly is meant by that? And I know you are a doctor as well. What will that mean to the doctors and health care workers
who are on the front lines of this crisis? So the financing that the bank provides will enable countries to stand up
their response plans itself. But train their health workers,
that requires ability to adapt what the WHO has within their country context, but train the health workers
to be able to get out there, to protect themselves, but also take care of those patients. One of the other things I was reading about is working to help maintain trust within commnunities. I understand that has to do with like making health care workers are safe; making sure communities understand what’s going on. Can you explain that a little bit? What exactly, am I understanding that correctly? Yes, I think this role of trust is even more important in a crisis situation like this. As we have seen in DRC, or in west Africa Ebola outbreak, or even in China, where the trust environment is low, people then may not follow the best guidance; the most rational thing for them to do. So engaging communities and citizens to understand what is at stake and to follow the instructions that
have been given to them -And to know that these instructions are in their best interest. Yes, and to do that transparently because sometimes lack of information foils the distrust. Because then people start guessing what is really going on But if there is full transparency, then people will believe what they’re hearing and to be able to use that in the action that they take. So rumors aren’t flying Exactly.
-and that sort of thing. Can you tell me also what the bank is doing to help the poorest patients. So those that are either super remote, or maybe are
afraid they are not going to be able to afford care during this outbreak? What we hope to see in the days ahead is countries come up and utilize these resources to respond not only for the over population but taking cognizant of those who can easily be left behind– the displaced populations. So you talked a little bit earlier about the need to build resilience. Beyond the twelve billion dollar package
that was announced this week, what has the bank been doing to help countries
prepare for this and other big outbreaks over the past few years? So, the World Bank’s effort to do this
did not start with COVID-19 -Right. It goes several years before now. If you go back from SARS to the pandemic flu to the MERS period but also the Ebola, there is a track record of experience in the World Bank
in terms of dealing with this. Preparedness is a core part of it, and what we
are trying to do is to insure that the cycles of panic and neglect get broken with the COVID-19 response. Panic and neglect meaning panicking about this outbreak and then kind of neglecting afterwards? -Which is the pattern that has occurred in the past: where when the media shifts its attention, then everyone goes back to their normalcy. -The experts the funding kind of goes away? What we hope is that investing in core public health
becomes central to the work of development and the work that the bank does.
Because the implication is not only in health; but also has a huge implication on economies and societies. Doctor Mohamed Pate, thank you so much for your time.
We will have to leave it there. Thank you so much for watching this episode of Expert Answers. The World Bank Group is continuing to monitor
the outbreak of COVID-19. If you want to learn more about our work, head on over to worldbank.org Until next time, goodbye.