A new report from the Independent Evaluation Group assesses the World Bank’s response to the health and social impacts of COVID-19, focusing on the interventions in 106 of these medium to highly vulnerable countries.  The World Bank’s Early Support to Addressing COVID-19: Health and Social Response surfaces lessons from the early response that can help the Bank and its client countries curb human capital losses during a future crisis.

The report found that the World Bank’s early health and social response had a strong emergency focus and was swift in the most vulnerable countries. The Bank quickly helped expand critical health services, and when vaccines became available, also helped countries procure and distribute them alongside essential equipment. Social protection systems were expanded for vulnerable groups, including income and food support interventions.

Quick internal decisions and existing support in-country portfolios sped up the Bank’s flow of support. Crisis instruments, repurposed projects, regional projects, trust funds, and grants helped with rapid financing and just-in-time assistance early on. The Bank also introduced operational flexibility that facilitated the rapid processing of the Multiphase Programmatic Approach and other instruments.

The pandemic demonstrated the World Bank’s ability to respond quickly and effectively but also highlighted crisis preparedness gaps in the Bank and many of its client countries. Health systems were not prepared to continue essential health services while their attention was turned to critical services during the crisis. The education sector was also underprepared and lacked a strategy to prevent learning losses among girls and other vulnerable groups.

The World Bank can build on innovations developed during COVID-19 to improve long-term crisis preparedness.

The World Bank can help countries strengthen telehealth and other platforms for continuing essential services during a crisis. Innovations in health communication, vaccine monitoring, and surveillance can strengthen health systems and help countries improve the quality of frontline services, including the availability of data to inform decisions for quality improvements. Going forward, it will be important to  gather evidence on the results of these innovations in countries, to determine what is working and to ensure they are reaching the most vulnerable. Services can also be bolstered to better manage supplies, deliver vaccines, support health workers, and ensure infection prevention and control measures.

Innovative approaches in the education sector can be further researched and leveraged to strengthen crisis preparedness, especially for supporting continuous learning. Extending networks and partnerships can expand remote learning, avoid learning losses, help children in and out of school catch up, and help countries reach vulnerable groups without access to those services.

Stephen Porter, co-author of IEG’s evaluation, shares highlights about innovations in the World Bank’s early response (60 seconds)

 

Pre-established relationships with country counterparts, earlier investments in human capital, and cross-sectoral coordination were instrumental to the World Bank’s response.

The World Bank’s previously established relationships with government counterparts facilitated a fluent dialogue on emerging challenges and urgent reforms. In Honduras, for example, the social response was built on long-standing policy dialogue with the government, and in Mozambique, the response built on existing sector relationships and accelerated the pace and direction of measures underway before the pandemic.

Previous investments in human development systems had a strong rate of return, helped build resilience during the pandemic, and can continue to do so in other crises. In Jordan, Morocco and India, the Bank used existing digital payments and social registries in its support for COVID-19. In Djibouti, World Bank projects expanded teacher and parent networks in communities to support remote learning. In India and Tajikistan, the Bank built on earlier analytical work and projects in social protection to help the government rapidly expand national social protection systems to mitigate COVID-19 shocks.

Although it was weak in most instances, cross-sectoral coordination played an important role. Where coordination was stronger, for example in India and Senegal, it helped to mobilize efforts quickly for testing, surveillance, laboratories, social protection, child learning, and nutrition. These efforts also involved different segments of society to implement programs, such as  women’s groups and the informal sector.

Jenny Gold, co-author of IEG’s evaluation, shares highlights about cross-sector support in the World Bank’s early response (90 seconds).

 

The World Bank can better apply a gender equality lens to health and social crisis response actions.

Support to protect women and girls was key to addressing impacts on health workers (who were often women), women caring for children, and girls. However, this support was limited and varied across countries.

A gender equality lens can be further applied with actions on psychosocial support, sexual and reproductive health, income and asset accumulation, reduction of gender-based violence, continued learning for girls, and community engagement.

Stephen Porter, co-author of IEG’s evaluation, shares highlights about the World Bank’s efforts to reach women, girls and other vulnerable groups (70 seconds)

 

Regional cooperation played an important role in the early response to COVID-19 and should be strengthened going forward.

Regional projects facilitated knowledge sharing and were particularly helpful for countries with limited capacity to respond independently to COVID-19. These projects supported coordination to plan and report on the response, encouraged leadership, and coordinated financing activities.

To take better advantage of their potential, the World Bank can strengthen support for regional approaches before the next crisis and help countries build structures at the national and sub-national levels to liaise with regional organizations. Developing coordination structures with subnational networks can help to reach every community in need.

Jenny Gold, co-author of IEG’s evaluation, shares highlights about regional cooperation in the World Bank’s early response (90 seconds)

 

The World Bank can continue strengthening its internal crisis preparedness

To better respond to global health crises the World Bank can review and expand operational flexibilities for processing new projects and develop guidance on the effective use of instruments at different stages of responses. The World Bank could also explore innovative ways to strengthen the use of crisis instruments by exploring how they could be activated in advance of a pending emergency to support prevention, for example.

Partnerships, which were a key driver of the Bank’s response, can also be strengthened to enable coordinated financing, advance market commitments, and technical support that will help countries strengthen crisis preparedness.

It is also important to develop processes for the integrated management and frequent reporting of monitoring data on projects in World Bank portfolios, for more regular and holistic snapshots of what is working, and for whom, to inform discussions with governments and decisions on adjusting approaches where needed.

Jenny Gold, co-author of IEG’s evaluation, highlights the importance of monitoring and evaluation in the World Bank’s crisis response and how this is a cross-cutting theme in the evaluation (90 seconds)

 

The World Bank’s Early Support to Addressing COVID-19: Health and Social Response is the first of two evaluations of the Word Bank Group’s early response to COVID-19. The second, focused on efforts to address the economic consequences of the pandemic, is due to be published on January 13, 2023.

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