Import of medical equipment almost double amid pandemicParticularly, the import from China had surged by around 104.8 percent to Rs2.9 billion in the first 11 months of fiscal 2019-20 on a year on year basis.
The import of medical equipment doubled during the first 11 months of the fiscal year 2020-21 that ended Thursday as the country faced a devastating second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to Nepal Rastra Bank statistics, the country imported medical equipment worth Rs15.24 billion during the first 11 months up from Rs8.08 billion during the same period in the fiscal year 2019-20.
Nepali imported these items mostly from China and countries other than India as the medical equipment became one of the country’s top import items. No significant import of medical equipment was recorded from India as it faced its own second wave earlier this year.
The country imported medical equipment worth Rs6.61 billion from China with imports by 128 percent compared to the same period in the previous year. Likewise, the import from third countries also increased by 66.4 percent to Rs8.62 billion, according to central bank statistics.
In fact, ever since the pandemic hit the country in early 2020, the import of medical equipment had started to grow.
Particularly, the import from China had surged by around 104.8 percent to Rs2.9 billion in the first 11 months of fiscal 2019-20 on a year on year basis while imports from third countries had declined by 12.2 percent to Rs5.18 billion during the same period, according to the central bank.
Medical equipment suppliers say that the pandemic was mainly responsible for fuelling the import of these items in the last one and half years. Particularly the crisis the country faced in the second wave of pandemic starting from April, fuelled the import of medical equipment, suppliers said.
According to the medical goods suppliers, supply of oxygen concentrators, oxygen plants, oxygen cylinders, antigen test kits, oximeters, intensive care units and high dependency units of hospitals among others were mostly imported during the second wave of pandemic.
Besides commercial supplies of medical goods, the country received 4126 oxygen concentrators of different capacities, 6945 oxygen cylinders, 1.48 million oxygen kits, 13,820 dead body bags, 218 ventilators among others from different foreign governments and domestic and international agencies during the period from April 14 to July 4, according to the Department of Health Services.
Such was the demand that importers that did not use medical goods changed their focus.
“Not only the medical equipment distributors but also garment and footwear importers also imported the medical equipment such as oximeters, oxygen concentrators and infrared thermometers (or thermal guns) contributing to high growth in supply of these items in the country,” said Suresh Ghimire, president of the Chemical and Medical Suppliers’ Association Nepal, grouping of the medical equipment.
“Now, there is a good stock of the medical goods which may be important if the country is hit by the potential third wave of pandemic.”
Nepali health officials are suspecting that the third wave of pandemic could hit the country in the upcoming autumn season. As a part of preparation, the ministry has asked the hospitals to arrange 20 percent of beds for the people aged below 18 years who have not been vaccinated.
Meanwhile, several federal, provincial and local government agencies and hospitals have started the procurement process to set up or improve medical facilities ahead of the end of last fiscal year. Many made efforts to procure the medical goods to spend the allocated budget in the last fiscal year.
“With the arrival of more equipment procured by these agencies, the overall import of medical equipment will be much bigger in future,” said Ghimire.
But of late, according to medical goods suppliers, the demand for medical goods has come down along with decrease in Covid-19 cases. But, they said that available goods or more might be necessary if the country is hit by the potential third wave of pandemic.
“The government has itself announced constructing several hospitals and adding medical facilities in hospitals and demand for medical equipment will remain good even in the new fiscal year,” said Kumar Dahal, manager of Subarna Shristi Private Limited, a Kathmandu-based medical equipment importer and supplier.
Through the budget for the current fiscal year, the government has announced completing the construction of 5-15 bed hospitals in 397 local units within the next two years.
Budget has also been allocated to build a 300-bed infectious disease hospital in Kathmandu Valley and 50-bed infectious disease hospitals in each province. The federal government has allocated Rs4 billion to procure ICU and HDU beds, ventilators, test kits among others, according to the budgetary provision.
“Even in the normal times, demand for medical equipment has remained steady and the demand will grow along with the government’s plan to increase medical infrastructure,” said Dahal.
Besides government hospitals, private hospitals are also expected to increase demand for medical equipment. For example, the budget for the current fiscal year made it mandatory for hospitals with more than 100 beds to have their own oxygen plants.
Even though supply of the medical equipment increased in the last fiscal year, the suppliers complained about the high freight charge they have been forced to pay.
“Both airfares and the sea freight charges have become very expensive for the delivery of the medical goods,” said Dahal.
“Most of the medical equipment comes under the category of dangerous goods because of the presence of batteries inside them and they have to be transported through certain carriers who charge high. For importing goods, we have to rely on a single airline—Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong which makes things expensive.”
According to him, sea freight has also become expensive with ships charging as high as $5600 per container from just $1200 per container in the normal times.
“So, it is also vital that road transportation linkage with China is good,” he added.
While the Tatopani customs point in Sindhupalchowk district remains closed, import through Rashuwagadi of Rasuwa district has not been smooth since the pandemic began last year.