With the pandemic taking a heavy toll on the country's economy and health care system, the Government of the Philippines sought assistance from the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and other development partners to accelerate the deployment of vaccines to its priority population.
Dr Ma. Soledad Antonio
Dr. Ma. Soledad Antonio
Director, Bureau of International Health Cooperation, Department of Health
The Department of Health (DOH), in partnership with IATF and the National Vaccination Operation Center, developed policies and guidelines to implement the emergency response consistent with internationally acceptable standards outlined by the WHO.
The first COVID-19 case in the Philippines was confirmed on Jan. 30, 2020. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global pandemic in February and mid-March, prompted by the rising number of cases, the Government of the Philippines imposed lockdown restrictions. The government also established an Inter-Agency Task Force for COVID-19 (IATF) to streamline their pandemic response.

"The Department of Health (DOH), in partnership with IATF and the National Vaccination Operation Center, developed policies and guidelines to implement the emergency response consistent with internationally acceptable standards outlined by the WHO," said Dr. Ma. Soledad Antonio, Director for DOH's Bureau of International Health Cooperation.
The pandemic had widespread socioeconomic impacts. Many small and medium-sized businesses downsized or shuttered, and unemployment rose to 17.7 percent. People were exposed to numerous risks including income generation, food security and safety, domestic violence and child abuse. As many as 7.7 million households experienced moderate to severe hunger in 2020. The country's gross domestic product took a nosedive in 2020, dipping to -9.57 percent, the largest annual decline since 1947. It was the first recession experienced by the Philippines since the 1998 Asian Financial Crisis.

To help boost economic and social recovery, the government planned to initially vaccinate 50 million people or 43.8 percent of the population.

In March 2021, the AIIB approved a USD300 million loan to the Philippines to fund the rapid procurement of eligible COVID-19 vaccines under its COVID-19 Crisis Recovery Facility. The Facility was established to support AIIB’s Members and clients and alleviate economic, financial and public health pressures arising from COVID-19. With the HEAL 2 project, it expanded its scope to include vaccine financing.

"The Facility intends to respond to Bank Members' urgent needs for vaccine access and prioritizes requests from low- and middle-income Members," said Wanli Fang, AIIB Senior Investment Officer and team leader for this project.

The Bank’s loan to the Philippines, cofinanced with the Asian Development Bank, supports the country’s Second Health System Enhancement to Address and Limit COVID-19 under the Asia Pacific Vaccine Access Facility Project (HEAL 2). The project is in line with AIIB’s commitment to supporting its Members in responding to the COVID-19 crisis.

Since the project was cofinanced with ADB, it required significant collaboration. The project's environmental and social risks were assessed using ADB's safeguards policy. Before the project started, AIIB and ADB undertook joint preparatory missions and developed a cooperative approach.

"We held virtual meetings as issues were anticipated," Wanli shared. "We had a continuing dialogue where we discussed the strategies and challenges and shared information such as supply contracts, procurement, disbursements and implementation monitoring."

Antonio added, "We conducted regular bi-monthly meetings to ensure that the detailed status of the project, including the challenges and learnings, were discussed."

Under the project, the national COVID-19 vaccine deployment plan was established. It included key results areas and requisite strategies from 2021 to 2023. Aside from funding the procurement of the required number of vaccine doses, the project also developed end-to-end logistical arrangements for transportation and delivery of vaccines from the point of manufacture to the designated central and regional hubs and storage facilities and a COVID-19 vaccination delivery system that included safeguards and medical waste management plans. Central and regional cold chain systems and storage facilities were set up to meet the required temperature margins to ensure the potency of the vaccines. Effective vaccine management protocols and procedures and national immunization programs were updated. The project also supported the preparation and implementation of an information and education campaign for mothers, caregivers and healthcare workers.

"We were able to complete the delivery of 85,631,530 doses of vaccine procured under the HEAL 2 project," Antonio said proudly. "As of Dec. 31, 2021, a total of 110,089,619 people were inoculated, including 36,649,984 financed by the HEAL 2 project."

This translates to over 50 million fully vaccinated individuals, more than 10.6 million partially vaccinated and close to 61.3 million people administered with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. As much as 42.8 percent of the HEAL 2 doses had been administered by the end of 2021. The remaining 57.2 percent of the HEAL 2- financed vaccines will be administered in 2022.

AIIB approved an additional USD250 million in financing for HEAL 2 in Dec. 2021 with ADB cofinancing to procure booster shots for the country's priority population and pediatric vaccines for individuals 17 years old and below.

"This additional financing will further support the Philippines in mitigating the adverse health, social and economic impacts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and help the economy and its people move forward," Wanli said.
Philippines: Accelerating Vaccination Against COVID-19