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Statement September 8, 2020

Statement on Trade Data Related to COVID-19-Related Medical Supplies

The World Bank Group is committed to doing all we can to help end the COVID-19 pandemic. We are working with over 100 low- and middle-income countries to bolster their health systems and advance a broad-scale pandemic response while we lay the groundwork for recovery.

We feel it is important to clarify misinformation recently posted on social media regarding the labeling of data contained on the World Integrated Trade Solutions (WITS) database. This database, a joint initiative of the World Bank, UNCTAD, UNSD, the WTO, and others, tracks a variety of international merchandise-trade data by product through Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System codes.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, many health products—which have been tracked in the WITS database for years—were labeled in technical terms. For example, products used for medical testing were tracked in the database under labels such as  “Reagents; diagnostic or laboratory reagents on a backing and prepared diagnostic or laboratory reagents whether or not on a backing, other than those of heading no. 3002 or 3006).” When test kits for COVID-19 were developed in January 2020, they were classified by Customs officials using these legacy classifications.

In March 2020, given the rising importance of these products in diagnosing and treating COVID-19, the World Health Organization and the World Customs Organization issued a list of key COVID-19 products to make it easier to track them. They also assigned to these products less technical COVID-related descriptions/labels such as “COVID-19 Test Kits.” This list included a wide variety of previously existing medical supplies—including ventilators and hand sanitizers.

For the same reason—to facilitate easier tracking—the WITS team created a special database using the WCO list (along with the new WHO/WCO labels/descriptions). The goal was to put information about key COVID-related medical supplies in one easy-to-find place.

However, in light of misinterpretations that have occurred in recent days, the labeling in the WITS site has been updated to reflect the reality: COVID-19 tests did not exist before 2020. What a few days ago was labeled on WITS as a “COVID-19 Test Kit” (using the WCO label) is now correctly labeled on the WITS COVID section as “Medical Tests.” Similar clarifying adjustments have been made elsewhere on the website. But the main database retains all of the original technical descriptions/labels that existed before the COVID-19 outbreak.

Since the crisis began, the World Bank Group (WBG) has taken broad, fast action to help developing countries strengthen their pandemic response and health care systems. We are already delivering urgent support to countries that account for 70% of the world’s population. We are working on projects that deliver scale and impact—helping countries implement emergency health operations, protect the poorest households, and save jobs and businesses.