The shortage of medical supplies in Egypt worsened because of tens of thousands of shipments accumulated in the ports due to the inability of banks to provide foreign exchange and the government’s reluctance to intervene to solve the crisis. This led to significant increases in the prices of medical supplies and the emergence of a black market for them. At the same time, warnings were raised that the situation was threatening citizens’ lives.
A few days ago, the General Division for Medical Supplies at the Cairo Chamber of Commerce sent an urgent memorandum to the Governor of the Central Bank, Hassan Abdullah, to solve the crisis of the accumulation of shipments in the ports since last January, even though importers deposited their entire value in Egyptian pounds in banks. The head of the division, Muhammad Ismail Abdo, said in press statements that the volume of the accumulated shipments and the demands for their release amounted to 100,000 loads between finished medical supplies and raw materials to be re-manufactured in factories in Egypt.
The accumulation of shipments in the ports and the non-release of them has resulted in a current severe shortage of many items of medical supplies, which threatens to halt the work of the entire healthcare sector, “for example, there is a great shortage of medical gloves that are not sufficient for the current needs in the market for use in hospitals,” according to the statement. The accumulation of these shipments also halted production lines for about 12 factories out of 320 factories to manufacture medical supplies in Egypt. “And with the delay in releasing shipments, the number of factories that may have to stop their production lines will increase because they do not have the raw materials, as the supplies industry depends on importing 100%.” said the division chief.
The division clarified in its statement that most of the items stacked in the ports are inflexible commodities in terms of demand for them because they are necessary to save patients’ lives and cannot be dispensed with. They are used to perform surgeries or complete patients’ treatment in hospitals of different specialties; therefore, their volume in hospitals must be maintained. The statement also indicated that most of these shipments have supply orders from the Unified Procurement Authority to meet the needs of hospitals and health centres affiliated with the Ministry of Health, hospitals and health insurance centers and university hospitals, which entails enormous losses for suppliers between delay fines and port floor fees, which will negatively affect the entire sector companies.
Threatening the life of patients
Medical needs come sixth on the list of Egyptian imports annually, valued at $5.1 billion. On the other hand, the medical industry annually exports supplies worth about $692 million, which means that the sector suffers from a deficit of $4.4 billion annually. The crisis led the Ministry of Health to issue instructions to its affiliated hospitals with restrictions on conducting liver and kidney function analyses, requiring that they be performed only for patients in intensive care and incubators, with the introduction of the need to specify the necessary functions in this analysis, in contrast to the previous situation by conducting a research of all liver and kidney functions without selectivity. The new instructions also stipulate that the consulting physician or department head must sign and stamp the analysis request.
The head of the children’s department in a hospital affiliated with the health insurance explained, in press statements, that among the supplies that suffer from a severe shortage now are the belongings of surgeries, especially heart and orthopaedic surgeries, because they depend on the presence of stores such as therapeutic and exploratory props that are used in heart surgeries. He stressed that the Heart Institute in Imbaba is witnessing a tragedy because most of the operations performed there are catheter surgeries.
The human rights lawyer with the Right to Medicine Initiative, Mahmoud Fouad, referred to the consequences of the lack of stents that caused the suspension of heart surgery operations at Ain Shams Specialized Hospital for several days until catheters were provided, adding that other hospitals had postponed operations. He also emphasized the occurrence of significant price hikes due to the sector’s linkage with the dollar, citing the example of the “Libidol” injection, which was sold within the limits of 250 pounds, as the lowest price for it became 1300 pounds, in contrast to the prices in private hospitals, which reached four thousand pounds.
The same crisis affected orthopaedic surgeries, which depended on artificial joints, plates, and screws and were among the most negatively affected surgeries. According to doctors, these surgeries are now suspended mainly due to the disappearance of these supplies from the market. Therefore, some doctors tend to bring some of these supplies with them during their return from a conference outside Egypt, but some are stopped at the airport, and the customs confiscate these supplies from it and deal with the matter as smuggling. Despite all this, the government refuses to acknowledge the crisis and completely denies reality. During the last period, it has been issuing statements categorically denying the existence of a shortage in government hospitals’ needs of medicines and medical supplies and that their strategic stock is safe and reassuring, while the reality confirms the exact opposite.