Nepali orders for Covid-19 supplies on low priority for Chinese firmsSome suppliers have cancelled import plans after learning that supplies cannot be delivered immediately.
Suresh Ghimire, a medical equipment supplier, abandoned his plan to procure some oxygen concentrators and pulse oximeters from China targeting Covid-19 patients whose number has been surging rapidly in the recent weeks.
“I inquired with a Chinese company to procure 100 oxygen concentrators and 1000 pulse oximeters recently,” said Ghimire, managing director of Swan International Pvt. Ltd. “But, I had to abandon the procurement plan due to increased prices and time to be taken for the delivery of these goods.”
Medical goods suppliers said the Chinese companies have been increasing the prices of the medical goods and taking longer than usual to deliver amid surging demands for them from around the world.
The Chinese companies are putting the orders from small buyers like Nepal on the back burner while giving priority to the massive demands from India, which is ravaged by the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, they said.
“The Chinese company informed us that it will take at least one or two months to ready the oxygen concentrators for delivery depending on their capacities,” said Ghimire, who is also the president of the Chemical and Medical Suppliers’ Association Nepal.
“In normal times, oxygen concentrators of five litres capacity would cost $450 per piece but they have now priced it at $580 per piece without transportation charge. They also priced the oximeter at $10 from the normal price of $8 per piece.”
After suffering losses after bringing infrared thermometers last year due to reduced price at home amid surge in supply, Ghimire said he didn’t want to take risks this time.
Due to the rapid rise in Covid-19 cases, the demand for oxygen concentrators, equipment that takes in air, separates the oxygen and delivers it to the patient, has gone up across the country, according to suppliers.
Households with respiratory illnesses procure these items and in recent days, those who have stayed in home isolation for Covid-19 are making increased demands of this equipment. These concentrators aren’t of much help for serious patients requiring higher supply of oxygen. Suppliers said almost all the oxygen concentrators in the market have already been sold causing an acute shortage of the equipment. So, a number of suppliers have sought to bring oxygen concentrators along with other medical goods amid surging demands for these items in the Nepali market.
But, for medical goods producers in China, demand from Nepal is insignificant compared to that of India and many other countries and for them priorities are to fulfill the larger demands first, according to suppliers. So, Nepali suppliers said the Chinese companies have been telling them to wait longer for the goods.
Due to this same reason, Subarna Shristi Private Limited, a Kathmandu-based medical equipment supplier, also had to shelve its plan to import oxygen concentrators from China lately.
“We talked with three Chinese companies for oxygen concentrators a week ago but all of them showed inability to make the concentrators ready for delivery for at least two months,” said Kumar Dahal, manager of the company.
According to him, the Chinese companies said that they could not take orders for two months as goods to be manufactured in the two months would be enough to fulfill the pre-orders made by Indian companies. Nepal is struggling to get supply of necessary medical goods at a time when the country is badly in need of these items amid surging Covid-19 cases.
On Monday, Nepal reported a total of 9271 Covid-19 cases as the total number of cases crossed 400,000, according to the Ministry of Health and Population. With 139 new deaths reported on Monday, total deaths from the pandemic reached 3859.
With the hospitals being overwhelmed by the increasing flow of Covid-19 cases, several hospitals have issued public notice stating that they are no longer able to take in new patients without oxygen being supplied. And, those staying in home isolation are in greater need of oxygen amid potentially urgent need for oxygen in the event of emergency. Health ministry officials are saying that the situation is that of helplessness and desperation.
And, there is now another risk of not getting the required medical goods on time, according to the suppliers. But, some suppliers said the supply of all the medical goods has not been affected.
Ramindra Neupane, managing director of Web Trading Concern, a medical goods supplier, said that there has been no delay from the Chinese companies on the supply of goods that his company deals with. “My company supplies medical diagnostic goods such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) kits and its regents which are being supplied in a timely manner once the orders are placed,” he said. “There is no problem in timely supply of Ribonucleic acid (RNA) extraction kits, Viral Transport Medium (VTM), and thermometers as well. But, goods like oxygen concentrators are hard to get even in China.”
Besides, delays from foreign companies, suspension of international flights could also affect timely supply of medical goods, according to suppliers.
The government, on May 2, had decided to halt all international flights, except for two flights a week between Nepal and India, from midnight of May 6 to May 14. The flight suspensions are part of the government’s Covid-19 containment measures.
“I had goods to be supplied next week and in the third week of May but flight suspension may affect the supply. Maybe, I will have to wait until a chartered flight is booked by the medical goods' suppliers collectively,” Neupane said.