Imports of medical equipment have nearly doubled as a result of the pandemic.
On a year-on-year basis, imports from China increased by roughly 104.8 percent to Rs2.9 billion in the first 11 months of fiscal 2019-20.
As the Philippines battled a deadly second wave of the Covid-19 outbreak, medical equipment imports more than doubled in the first 11 months of fiscal year 2020-21, which ended Thursday.
According to the Nepal Rastra Bank, the country imported medical equipment worth Rs15.24 billion in the first 11 months of fiscal year 2019-20, up from Rs8.08 billion in the same period last year.
Medical equipment has become one of Nepal’s top import goods, with much of it coming from China and other nations other than India. As India dealt with its own second wave earlier this year, no large medical equipment imports were noted.
In comparison to the same period the previous year, the government purchased medical equipment worth Rs6.61 billion from China, representing a 128 percent increase in imports. According to central bank statistics, imports from other nations grew by 66.4 percent to Rs8.62 billion.
In reality, since the epidemic struck the country in early 2020, medical equipment imports have increased.
According to the central bank, imports from China increased by roughly 104.8 percent to Rs2.9 billion in the first 11 months of fiscal 2019-20 compared to the same period last year, while imports from third countries decreased by 12.2 percent to Rs5.18 billion.
According to medical equipment suppliers, the pandemic was primarily responsible for the increase in imports of these items during the last year and a half. According to vendors, the country’s crisis in the second wave of the pandemic, which began in April, fueled the import of medical equipment.
During the second wave of the pandemic, medical goods providers reported that oxygen concentrators, oxygen plants, oxygen cylinders, antigen test kits, oximeters, intensive care units, and high dependency units of hospitals, among other items, were largely imported.
According to the Department of Health Services, the country received 4126 oxygen concentrators of various capacities, 6945 oxygen cylinders, 1.48 million oxygen kits, 13,820 dead body bags, 218 ventilators, and other medical supplies from various foreign governments and domestic and international agencies between April 14 and July 4.
The demand was so great that non-medical importers had to shift their focus.
“Medical equipment such as oximeters, oxygen concentrators, and infrared thermometers (or thermal guns) were imported not only by medical equipment distributors but also by garment and footwear importers, contributing to a high growth in supply of these items in the country,” said Suresh Ghimire, president of the Chemical and Medical Suppliers’ Association Nepal, which groups medical equipment.
“Right now, there is a good store of medical supplies, which might be critical if the country is hit by a third wave of pandemic.”
Nepalese health officials believe the country would be affected by the third wave of the pandemic in the coming autumn season. The ministry has urged hospitals to set aside 20% of beds for people under the age of 18 who have not been vaccinated as part of their preparations.
Meanwhile, a number of federal, provincial, and local government organizations, as well as hospitals, have begun the procurement process to build or improve medical facilities ahead of the fiscal year’s end. Many people worked hard to purchase medical supplies in order to spend the authorized amount in the previous fiscal year.
“As more equipment procured by these agencies arrives, the overall import of medical equipment will be substantially larger in the future,” Ghimire said.
However, according to medical goods vendors, demand for medical goods has decreased in recent months, coinciding with a fall in Covid-19 instances. However, they stated that if the country is attacked by a hypothetical third wave of pandemic, available items or more may be required.
“The government has announced the construction of several hospitals and the addition of medical facilities in hospitals, and demand for medical equipment will remain strong even in the new fiscal year,” said Kumar Dahal, manager of Kathmandu-based medical equipment importer and supplier Subarna Shristi Private Limited.
The government announced in the current fiscal year’s budget that it will finish building 5-15 bed hospitals in 397 local units during the next two years.
In addition, funds have been set aside to construct a 300-bed infectious illness hospital in the Kathmandu Valley, as well as 50-bed infectious disease hospitals in each of the provinces. According to the financial provision, the federal government has set aside Rs4 billion to purchase ICU and HDU beds, ventilators, and test kits, among other things.
“Demand for medical equipment has been stable even in normal times, and demand will grow in tandem with the government’s ambition to expand medical infrastructure,” Dahal said.
Private hospitals, in addition to government hospitals, are likely to see an increase in demand for medical equipment. For example, in the current fiscal year’s budget, hospitals with more than 100 beds were required to have their own oxygen plants.
Despite the fact that supply of medical equipment rose in the previous fiscal year, suppliers expressed dissatisfaction with the high freight charges they were compelled to pay.
“Both flights and sea freight charges for the transportation of medical items have become extremely expensive,” Dahal remarked.
“Most medical equipment falls under the category of dangerous commodities since it contains batteries, and it must be delivered by certain carriers that charge a premium fee. We have to rely on a single airline—Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong—for importing supplies, which makes things expensive.”
Sea freight, he claims, has also gotten more expensive, with ships costing as much as $5600 per container, up from $1200 in normal times.
“As a result, a solid road transportation linkage with China is also critical,” he added.
While the Tatopani customs point in Sindhupalchowk district is still closed, imports through the Rasuwa district’s Rashuwagadi have been difficult since the pandemic began last year.
Source – The Kathmandu Post