July 29, 2020 / 5:20 PM / 15 days ago

World Bank's IFC launches $4 billion medical supply financing platform

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The World Bank Group’s private sector arm said on Wednesday it was launching a $4 billion financing platform aimed at boosting the production and supply of critical healthcare products in developing countries to help fight the coronavirus pandemic.

FILE PHOTO: A participant stands near a logo of World Bank at the International Monetary Fund - World Bank Annual Meeting 2018 in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, October 12, 2018. REUTERS/Johannes P. Christo/File Photo

The International Finance Corp’s initiative is largely aimed at private sector projects to manufacture products such as personal protective equipment, ventilators and other medical equipment, coronavirus test kits, therapeutic drugs and vaccines.

IFC is contributing $2 billion in internal resources with plans for another $2 billion to come from private sector partners.

The group also intends to work with other international finance institutions to leverage additional funds, IFC Chief Operating Officer Stephanie von Friedeburg told Reuters in an interview.

She added that IFC also is working with the GAVI global vaccine alliance to identify and finance projects capable of boosting COVID-19 vaccine production in developing countries.

The World Health Organization estimates worldwide demand for critical healthcare products now exceeds supply by more than $60 billion annually.

Initial products financed by the IFC platform will be focused on immediate supply needs, but longer term, the platform aims to finance projects that will build up developing country healthcare systems and reduce their dependence on global supply chains, von Friedeburg said.

“We have to expand the capacity of services as well as supplies to make a more resilient future,” von Friedeburg said.

Because some more sophisticated equipment, such as ventilators, are built largely in developed countries, some of the financing can go to those wealthier countries, but with commitments to supply developing countries, von Friedeburg said

PORTFOLIO ‘TRIAGE’

The new platform builds on an $8 billion fast-track financing facility that IFC created in March to keep companies solvent and support jobs in developing countries. So far, the lender has committed $3.7 billion of these funds, including added liquidity for existing clients and small businesses.

Von Friedeburg said there had been a “slight uptick” in non-performing loans among IFC’s roughly $100 billion total loan and investment portfolio, consistent with the experience of other international financial institutions and commercial lenders.

But she said it would take longer for the picture to become clearer and much would depend on the duration of the pandemic.

“We have done a pretty heavy triage of our portfolio. If you look at the assets we’ve soft-circled, it’s probably 10% that we’re very concerned about,” she said, adding that tourism assets such as shuttered airports were among the most affected.

Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Tom Brown

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