ISLAMABAD           -              The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors approved, on Friday, a $500 million program to help Pakistan improve access to quality healthcare and education, support economic opportunities for women, and strengthen social safety nets as the country braces to limit the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Securing Human Investments to Foster Transformation (SHIFT) program will support policy reforms to help Pakistan’s COVID-19 emergency response and protect human capital investments. It will support greater coordination between provinces and federal authorities to immunize millions of children and reduce their risks of contracting polio and other diseases. SHIFT also improves targeted safety net programs that will benefit 12 million people impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, both at the federal and provincial levels.

“The global COVID-19 pandemic is impacting day-to-day life in Pakistan – not solely from economic disruptions but also additional stress on public services that jeopardize human capital accumulation,” said Illango Patchamuthu, World Bank Country Director for Pakistan. “This program underscores the criticality of universal healthcare and social protection services that are durable to exogenous shocks such as Pakistan is facing now.”

SHIFT supports three policy reforms aimed at building Pakistan’s workforce and improving social safety-net programs, which are: (i) increase the quality of essential services, especially primary health care and equitable access to basic education, and civil registration and vital statistics, (ii) recognize women’s economic contributions and support participation in the labor force through appropriate working conditions, and (iii) improve efficiencies in safety nets for COVID-19 response, and strengthen the effectiveness of national and federal safety net programs in the short to medium term.

“Pakistan’s ability to mitigate socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 depends on how quickly and efficiently social safety net programs can reach those most in need,” said Cristina Panasco Santos, Task Team Leader for the program. “This program supports alignment efforts between Ehsaas, safety nets provincial programs to ensure that the most vulnerable and affected populations are identified and receive assistance.”

Earlier, in this week, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) had approved a $300 million emergency assistance loan to strengthen Pakistan’s public health response to the pandemic and help meet the basic needs of vulnerable and poor segments of society.