Asian Development Bank’s Role during the Pandemic

Asia is a geographical region with rising infectious diseases, including those with the potential to be a pandemic. At the same time, the region is fighting with developing antimicrobial resistance and the health consequences of climate change and frequent natural disasters, all of which act as a threat to regional health safety. The causes for high health safety risks in Asia are – speedy economic growth, elevated trade, urbanization, movable populations, and weak health practices all perform a part. Health safety is a regional common good, and as such regional assistance is essential to protect it.

To strengthen the health sector, the article provides an overview of the ADB’s role during the pandemic. A regional development bank that was established in 1996 to provide and promote development financing for nations in Asia and the Pacific. The organization started its journey with 31 members and has now grown to encompass 68 members including 49 from the Asian and Pacific region and 19 from other regions.[1] Article 1 of the Agreement Establishing the Asian Development Bank pronounces the purpose of the Bank shall be to encourage economic growth and assistance in the region of Asia and the Far East and to provide the expedition of the process of economic development of the developing member countries in the region, collectively and personally.[2] Article 2 of the Agreement mentions the ADB’s functions, which cover: promotion of private and public investment for developmental persistence, assist ADB member countries to formulate, finance and coordinate expansion plans, strengthen regional and sub-regional schemes and programs to contribute to a harmonious economic growth of the region and boost intra-regional trade.[3]

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has a rich history of funding in public goods and health safety and is in a novel position to support countries in these efforts. ADB has consistently played an indispensable role to convene stakeholders, build on its current health sector portfolio, and structure long-term financing for health. With the enhancement of ADB’s vision in the health sector, it started an operational plan for health in June (2015), whose principal aim was to encourage the developing countries to cover the field of health, its main purpose was to fund health infrastructure and health governance. The Operational Plan for Health (OPH), 2015–2020 presents a broad spectrum of blended strategies and solutions to support ADB developing member countries in assembling the United Nations post-2015 goal of developing public and private health services.[4]

Persistent Approach

ADB has great antiquity of supporting the health sector rising from 1978, with a larger health project in a polyclinic in Hong Kong, China. Since then, ADB’s financing in health projects has steadily evolved from rural health, infectious diseases in the Asian Pacific region to the strengthening of the health systems. Securing maximum health during their life course enables citizens to be fruitful members of society. Hence, health has appeared as the central to the ADB’s preference for human capital development. The strategy 2030 gives a focused approach for directing the health needs of the developing countries by leveraging fiscal support to reach UHC through strategic investments in health infrastructure, health sector governance, and health investment.[5]

The 2003 critical acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic was registered as the first epidemic of the 21st century to pose a menace to global health and cause considerable panic across the globe.  The ADB signed a program that donated two million US dollars to support in fighting critical acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in China’s western provinces. Under the plan, the donated fund was used to give scientific support to prevent, monitor, control, and ease SARS in the undeveloped parts of China’s western regions.[6] The fund was also be used to improve the epidemic monitoring system, encourage domestic and foreign specialists to offer help in the diagnosis and operation of SARS, and raise public awareness of preventing the disease. The program was supposed to start in late May 2003 and run through May next year.

The Regional Malaria and Other Communicable Disease Threats Trust Fund were introduced up in 2013 with the special remit to support developing member nations to develop multi-country, cross-border, and multi-sector acknowledgments to urgent malaria and other communicable disease concerns. Its main goal is to improve health issues and increase health safety by overcoming the risk of malaria and other communicable disease threats in Asia and the Pacific. The ADB Cooperation Fund for combating HIV/AIDS in Asia and the Pacific helped from a $19.2 million donation from the Government of Sweden to assist ADB’s developing member countries reach their promise to Millennium Development Goal 6, to have reduced by 2015 and begun to reverse the expanse of HIV. The fund aimed to support these countries to acquire a complete AIDS response; empower them to partner with ADB in areas that play to the bank’s strategic value and benefits; and particularly to profit sub-regions, countries, and communities that are most exposed to HIV.

ADB’s Response to COVID-19, 2020

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) announced a $6.5 billion initial package to approach the urgent needs of its developing member countries (DMCs) as they respond to the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic[7]. Mr. Asakawa emphasized that “ADB stands available to provide further financial support and policy advice down the road whenever the circumstances warrants, on top of the $6.5 billion packages.” In East Asia, the ADB has a developing portfolio in directing the expanding burden of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and long-term care. ADB health sector aims to alleviate the risk of tangible fiscal constraints and adverse social consequences of aging by capacity building in developing countries in Elderly Care. This incorporates developing policies and plans for long-term care services.

Also, the organization had decided to invest a great amount in clean energy to contribute to Asia-Pacific’s recovery from the COVID-19 crisis and make economies more flexible against future traumas.[8] ADB has requested proposals for digital solutions to promote waste management, reduce the quantity of material sent to landfills, and improve sustainability to build more flexible communities. The ADB has collaborated with UNICEF Nepal to provide critically needed medical supplies for health care staff and others in the frontline.[9]


With rising globalization comes prolonged exposure to global epidemics. ADB is assigned to the development of the sector in building conscious, equitable, and quality health systems to obtain universal health coverage. ADB has optimized auxiliary health benefits by drawing synergies with its portfolio in other core sectors, including transport, water, urban, sanitation, and energy. Consequently, ADB is also taking action to maintain the growing burden of NCDs and elderly care cost-effectively and sustainably. ADB’s popular lending in the health and population sector has remained constant at 2–3% of total ADB lending. Though ADB rests a minor player in this significant sector, the health sector remains to be a strategic area of arbitration to be supported under the partnership negotiations, Close co-operation among the International Organizations and ADB can catalyze greater participation and engagement towards global health.

The pandemic needs a coordinated response and effective collaboration between countries and organizations. ADB should extend its collaboration with the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, regional development banks, the World Health Organization, and as well as the US Centre’s for Disease Control and private sector bodies, to assure active implementation of its response during the time of the pandemic. ADB should improve primary health care by emphasizing fundamental changes for good governance and incentives to support governments’ take on the health functions of a modern bureaucracy.

[1] Asian Development Bank, www.

[2] Supra 1

[3] Supra 1

[4] ADB, Strategic Partnership for International Health Regulations (2005) and Health Safety (SPH);

[5] Pandemics and Emerging Diseases, ADB (2019);

[6] ADB donates US$ Two Million to China to combat SARS (May 27, 2003);

[7] ADB’s response to Coronavirus (COVID-19) (Apr.21,2020,3:03);

[8] More investment in clean energy will help APAC recover from COVID-19 crisis, The Economic Times (June 16, 2020; 04:13 PM IST);


Malini Raj from University of Petroleum and Energy Studies

Editor: Sanskriti Sood

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