Egypt’s hospitals are being forced to deal with a critical shortage of essential medical supplies because of a lack of dollars to clear imports held up at the nation's ports.
Shipments of medical products, as well as materials needed for their manufacture locally, have been held up at various ports since January, an official of the Cairo Chamber of Commerce said.
“We all know the problem is that banks at this time can’t secure the necessary sums in US dollars for most imports,” Mohamed Ismail, head of the chamber's General Division for Medical Supplies, told CTV, a Coptic television network, on Wednesday. “But medical supplies are outside the realm of negotiation. They are essential and we simply cannot do without them. They should be made a priority.”
Mr Ismail said importers has deposited payments for the goods at various banks but these were in Egyptian pounds under local banks' instructions.
The General Division for Medical Supplies said it had made an urgent appeal to Egypt's central bank to renew its instruction to local banks to prioritise allocation of their dollar resources to securing essential goods.
Mr Ismail said medical supplies made up around 1 per cent of Egypt’s annual imports and amounted to $94.5 billion last year. Among the items in seriously short supply are rubber gloves, which are needed for procedures from simple examinations to surgery, he said.
Egypt's import-heavy economy has been hamstrung a dollar shortage since last year after foreign investors pulled out almost $20 billion from the debt market and a rise in global food and energy prices, brought on by the war in Ukraine, pushed up import bills and depleted its foreign reserves.
Mr Ismail said clearing imports of materials for local manufacturers of medical products and pharmaceuticals should also be given priority as this would help to reduce Egypt's trade deficit.
Egyptian medical and pharmaceutical supplies accounted for 38.8 per cent of the country's exports last year and brought in revenue of $968 million, according to data from Capmas, the state statistics agency.
Mr Ismail said Egypt's medical supplies industry was at risk of collapse because of the losses being incurred by importers and manufacturers who have to pay late fees to their suppliers as well port warehouse rental fees.
The last shipments of medical supplies to clear the ports was in December, when banks were able to secure the necessary foreign currency. An earlier batch of shipments was cleared in November.
The government said it cleared $9 billion worth of goods at various ports between December 1 and January 10, and that $1.25 billion worth of chicken feed was released in February, but has offered no updates on imports since.