World Bank provides Lebanon with $34M to buy vaccines

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The World Bank approved $34 million in emergency financing to Lebanon to allow the country to purchase vaccines against the coronavirus.

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Under a reallocation of funds from the Lebanon Health Resilience Project, which was launched in June 2017 to shore up the Eastern Mediterranean country’s struggling health care sector, the funds will provide the country with the ability to obtain enough vaccine doses for over two million people.

This the first time the World Bank has financed a program to fund the purchase of vaccines for a sovereign state.

World Bank Group President David Malpass said in a statement that the bank will continue to offer “our support to many more countries in their vaccination efforts. Our goal remains to mitigate the impact of the pandemic in order to save lives and improve livelihoods.”

Coronavirus infections are at record levels in Lebanon. Since the beginning of 2021, the country’s active cases have more than doubled from 52,000 to over 105,000, while total deaths have increased by 40% from 1,479 to 2,084.

One nursing student at the American University in Beirut, who is aware of the depth of the crisis, said that she and her fellow students are having a tough time but “this pandemic is also one of the challenges nurses must face in their career, so we must get accustomed to it.”

Lamenting the ongoing crisis, nursing student Carine Dichjknian told The Media Line that “having more than 5,000 positive cases per day for a small country like Lebanon, that lacks the needed medical supplies and hospital beds, is terrible. Almost everyone I know has had the virus or has had contact with a COVID-19 positive person.”

Lebanon is not alone.

The Eastern Mediterranean region, as reported in the World Health Organization’s most recent weekly report issued on January 19, saw an increase of 2% in coronavirus-related deaths last week after almost seven straight weeks (November 23, 2020 to January 11, 2021) of decreases. However, new infection cases jumped by 7% in the region, compared to the previous week.

Three countries, said the global organization, accounted for 54% of recent new cases around the region: Iran, where infections rose by 2%; Lebanon, which saw a 15% increase; and the UAE, where cases jumped by 38%.

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Lebanon is currently in the midst of a national lockdown scheduled to last into mid-February. Dubai just announced the closing of entertainment venues and put a stop to most non-emergency medical procedures; while Iran, not in a lockdown situation, urged residents to uphold health protocols and avoid public spaces when feeling ill.

This past week in Israel, despite the ongoing vaccination program which has already reached over two million people, the government approved the lengthening of a third national lockdown to the end of January. The country has not been able to halt the upward infection trend.

In Jordan, no stranger to the coronavirus, refugees have been included in the kingdom’s program to vaccinate everyone within its borders.

“Inclusion of refugees in the national COVID-19 response plan and now the subsequent vaccination campaign has been a pledge from the government of Jordan and Ministry of Health since the beginning of the pandemic,” Lilly Carlisle, spokeswoman in Jordan for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, told The Media Line.

Refugees registered in Jordan number just over 752,000, and hail from Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan and Somalia. Of these, close to 5% or just over 36,000, are above the age of 60 and among the first scheduled for vaccinations against the coronavirus.

Futiam Al Jabal, age  82 from Syria, is one of them.

She has been in Jordan for seven years and receiving the vaccines gives her peace of mind.

“Jordan is taking care of us like its own citizens. We are very grateful for that. Everyone is taking the vaccine. I am old and used to worry about going out during the pandemic. Now I can have some peace of mind and hope this virus goes away after everyone takes the vaccine,” she told The Media Line.

Amneh Al Ahmad, 72, also a refugee from Syria for seven years, expressed gratitude for her inoculation.

“I am happy and privileged to take the vaccine; now I can return and see my family while not having to worry about COVID-19,” she told The Media Line.

The UNHCR reports that Syrians comprise more than 88% of all refugees in Jordan.

Jordan’s Ministry of Health is responsible for administering inoculations, which are either of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Sinopharm vaccines.

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This week, Jordan reported that total infections among the population trended down, a positive sign after reaching all-time highs earlier this month.

Active infection cases among refugees, at least those reported, remain low.

Carlisle said that the first confirmed case of a refugee who contracted the coronavirus came on September 2. There are currently 172 active cases among the refugee population, she said.

“UNHCR is incredibly proud of the fact that Jordan has become one of the first countries in the world to start refugee vaccinations,” she said. “As the country that hosts the second largest number of refugees per capita globally, it is illustrative of the generosity and solidarity Jordan has continued to show to refugees over the last 30 years.”

Here are the latest COVID-19 numbers for the Middle East and North Africa as of 1:30 pm Greenwich Mean Time (UTC±0) on Thursday.

Country                 Confirmed cases Deaths Recovered Active Cases

Afghanistan         54,483         2,370 46,887 5,226

Algeria         104,606         2,849 71,127 30,630

Bahrain         98,573         366         95,240 2,967

Cyprus         29,472         176         2,057 27,239

Djibouti                 5,913         61         5,828 24

Egypt         158,963         8,747 124,605 25,611

Iran                 1,354,120         57,150 1,144,549 152,821

Iraq                   611,407         12,977 576,725 21,705

Israel         575,016         4,210 493,303 81,493

Jordan         317,405         4,187 303,108 10,110

Kuwait         159,264         951         152,420 5,893

Lebanon         264,467         2,084 157,202 105,361

Libya         111,746         1,716 89,909 20,121

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Mauritania         16,212         407         14,829 976

Morocco              462,542         8,043 437,955 16,544

Oman         132,486         1,517 124,730 6,239

Pakistan                 527,146         11,157 480,696 35,293

Palestinian Territories 153,590         1,751 142,004 9,835

Qatar         148,000         248         144,350 3,402

Saudi Arabia         365,775         6,342 357,337 2,096

Somalia         4,744         130         3,666 948

Sudan         26,278         1,603 15,688 8,988

Syria         13,313         858         6,773 5,682

Tunisia         188,373         5,921 135,543 46,909

Turkey         2,406,206         24,487 2,283,919 97,810

United Arab Emirates 267,258         766         239,322 27,170

Yemen         2,115         612         1,423 80

Total         8,559,473         161,686 7,651,195 751,173

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