Sierra Leone Telegraph: 9 June 2021:
The World Bank yesterday announced that it has approved $8.5 million grant in additional financing to support affordable and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines in Sierra Leone.
Early this year, Sierra Leone received 296,000 doses in total, with China supplying 200,000 doses, and 96,000 from the Global COVAX facility.
In May, officials responsible for the Covid programme in the country – NACOVERC, reported that the rate of covid infection in Sierra Leone was 0.1 per 1000 covid-19 cases.
NACOVERC said it had increased testing by 1000 from 100 a day and is aiming to vaccinate 70% of the country’s population.
By the end of May, less than 1% of the country’s population had been vaccined. According to NACOVERC, 63,000 people had received the first dose, and 7,785 had taken both doses.
But questions are being asked about the uptake of covid vaccines in Sierra Leone. If only 63,000 have been vaccinated, what has happened to the remaining 230,000 doses of the vaccine received from China and the COVAX programme?
Is the government doing enough to promote vaccine uptake? Have the remaining 230,000 doses been thrown away because of short shelf life and poor uptake?
This new World Bank grant funding will help the government purchase and deploy more coronavirus vaccines, and strengthen health systems to prepare for future pandemic outbreaks.
It will also support the costs of expanding activities of the parent project — Sierra Leone COVID-19 Emergency Preparedness and Response Project, under the Coronavirus disease Strategic Preparedness and Response Program. It will complement the resources from the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) Advanced Market Commitment (AMC) Facility to jointly vaccinate close to a quarter of the country’s population by the end of 2021.
“These additional funds present an opportunity for us as a Government to strengthen our response to the pandemic, and to broaden the implementation of the Coronavirus vaccine rollout,” said Austin Demby, Minister of Health and Sanitation for Sierra Leone.
“Now the work of translating available funds into vaccinations and COVID-19 prevention and care activities go into high gear. As a Ministry, we continue to look forward to our strong collaboration with the World Bank as we collectively work to improve health outcomes for the people of Sierra Leone,” Demby said
The Sierra Leone COVID-19 Emergency Preparedness and Response Project was approved by the World Bank on April 2, 2020, filling critical financing gaps identified due to the new emergency preparedness and response needs created by the global pandemic.
The first $7.5 million International Development Association (IDA) grant was to help strengthen Sierra Leone’s response to the outbreak and further reinforce national systems for public health preparedness.
Gayle Martin, outgoing World Bank Country Manager for Sierra Leone, said: “Given the importance of limiting the spread of COVID-19 to improve health outcomes and support economic recovery, providing access to vaccines will be crucial to accelerate economic and social recovery for Sierra Leone”.
“This additional financing comes at a critical time and will respond to critical needs for financing the COVID-19 vaccine deployment to scale up and build on ongoing efforts for health systems strengthening in the country.”
The project has significantly contributed to reducing the case fatality rate from 6% in May 2020 to 2.1% in February 2021 by strengthening health systems.
It procured an assortment of essential local drugs needed to treat COVID-19 patients and continues to support the strengthening of the country’s laboratory systems with the provision of vital laboratory supplies to all designated laboratories across the country.
Furthermore, it has helped improve electronic data reporting with over 90% of routine data collected at district level on District Health Information Software (DHIS2).
The project has procured quantities of essential medicines, equipment, PPEs, testing kits, and consumables.
Sierra Leone now has the capacity to perform rapid COVID-19 testing, with results being declared within 72 hours of taking samples. A functional grievance redress system was established with a significant number of reported cases resolved.
The World Bank, is one of the largest sources of funding and knowledge for developing countries, is taking broad, fast action to help developing countries respond to the health, social and economic impacts of COVID-19. This includes $12 billion to help low- and middle-income countries purchase and distribute COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments, and strengthen vaccination systems.
The financing builds on the broader World Bank Group COVID-19 response, which is helping more than 100 countries strengthen health systems, support the poorest households, and create supportive conditions to maintain livelihoods and jobs for those hit hardest.