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IMF approves debt relief for 25 poor countries over Covid-19

The International Monetary Fund has announced immediate debt relief for 25 poor countries to help them free up funds to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

“This provides grants to our poorest and most vulnerable members to cover their IMF debt obligations for an initial phase over the next six months and will help them channel more of their scarce financial resources towards vital emergency medical and other relief efforts,” IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said in a statement.

The countries are nearly all in Africa, but Afghanistan, Yemen, Nepal and Haiti are also on the list.

The debt relief will be funded by the IMF’s Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust, which was first set up to combat the West Africa Ebola outbreak in 2015 and has been repurposed to help countries fend off Covid-19.

The fund currently has $500m, with Japan, Britain, China and the Netherlands among its main contributors.

“I urge other donors to help us replenish the trust’s resources and boost further our ability to provide additional debt service relief for a full two years to our poorest member countries,” Ms Georgieva said.

The IMF has also approved $1bn in emergency funding for Ghana and $442m for Senegal to enable both countries to respond to the rapidly-spreading coronavirus pandemic.

The IMF and the World Bank have called for rich nations to stop collecting debt payments from poor countries from 1 May until June 2021.

Last week, the World Bank said it would roll out $160bn in emergency aid over 15 months to help countries stricken by the virus, including $14bn in debt repayments from 76 poor countries to other governments.

It comes as the head of monitoring and evaluation at Irish aid agency, GOAL, has said the poor capacity in many African countries to respond to the Covid-19 crisis should not be underestimated.

Dr Enida Friel said there are cases of Covid-19 in nearly every African country now with around 10,000 confirmed cases and 500 deaths.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland she said the lack of water and sanitation in Africa is of huge concern and GOAL is ensuring access to water and soap in all of the countries it works in.

In addition to that, the agency is also distributing information on infection prevention and identifying symptoms.

Dr Friel pointed out that a few countries in West Africa dealt with Ebola and as a result of this, skills have being gained.

In Sierra Leone, she said, all the protocols of Ebola have now kicked in but this is not the case for the rest of the continent where their health systems are weak or non-existent.

Dr Friel said Uganda, with a population of 45 million, had 65 ICU beds, while Malawi , with a population of 17 million, had just 25 ICU beds. Even Sierra Leone, she said, had just 18 ventilators.

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