ISLAMABAD: The World Bank (WB) has approved a $100 million loan to finance reforms in the health sector of Punjab, the country’s largest province lagging behind on many health-related Millennium Development Goals.
The reform programme is aimed at enhancing the number of people who have access to high quality health services, said Rachid Benmessaoud - WB’s country office - here on Monday. Islamabad will return the concessionary loan in 25 years with a maturity period of five years.
The WB is the second largest lender to Pakistan, followed by the Asian Development Bank. However, its lending programmes to Pakistan have adversely been affected for last five years due to Islamabad’s inability to carry out critical tax and energy reforms.
“Punjab holds the key to Pakistan’s progress towards attaining the MDGs as it constitutes 60% of Pakistan’s population,” said Benmessaoud. He said the program will help the provincial government implement its Health Sector Strategy by building the capacity and systems to strengthen accountability and stewardship in the provincial Department of Health.
Despite recent gains, the health sector performance in Punjab remains inadequate due to multiple external and internal health system factors. Punjab's overall health outcomes are slightly better than other provinces, but the pace of change remains slow and uneven with significant disparities among regions, rural and urban areas, and by economic status.
The average duration of exclusive breastfeeding is only 0.9 month in Punjab, as compared to the national average of 3.2 months. Further, immunisation coverage also remains low; only one in three children aged 12-23 months are fully immunised.
“Punjab has gradually improved maternal and child health outcomes and the key to further improvement is addressing the issue of malnutrition among women and children,” said Dr Inaamul Haq, task team leader of the project.
The reform programme will aim to improve the capacity of health service providers. Its target areas are health service delivery, efficiency and effectiveness of the health system, provincial department of health management capacity and the capacities in technical areas for equitable health services.
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