Pakistan says prioritizing medical imports as hospitals, labs ration devices, diagnostic equipment

This picture taken on October 13, 2022 shows newborn babies lying in incubators at a maternity ward in a hospital in Karachi. (AFFile)
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Updated 06 February 2023

Pakistan says prioritizing medical imports as hospitals, labs ration devices, diagnostic equipment

  • Pakistan spends about $1.1 billion annually to procure devices and diagnostic equipment from abroad 
  • There is an unofficial import restriction in Pakistan as foreign reserves have plunged to dangerous levels 

ISLAMABAD: Millions are at risk in Pakistan as hospitals, laboratories and clinics face an acute shortage of medical devices and diagnostic products due to unofficial import restrictions, local suppliers and health care practitioners have said, while the government says it has ordered the central bank to prioritize medical imports. 

Pakistan imports over 90 percent of its medical devices and diagnostic equipment from the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and China to meet its domestic medical requirements. According to official statistics, the country spends about $1.1 billion annually to procure these products from abroad. 

The South Asian country is struggling to quell default fears in domestic and international markets, with its forex reserves diminishing to $3.09 billion and a $1.1 billion bailout tranche from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stuck since November. Meanwhile, the government has also placed a ban on the import of goods, including industrial raw materials, to stop dollar outflows. 

“We have urged the government and the central bank several times to allow the import of medical devices as it is a matter of urgent public importance, but to no avail so far,” Masood Ahmed, chairman of the Healthcare Devices Association of Pakistan, told Arab News. 

The medical devices that Pakistan imports range from simple tongue depressors and bedpans to complex programmable pacemakers and closed-loop artificial pancreas systems. These devices also include in-vitro diagnostic (IVD) products, such as reagents, test kits and blood glucose meters as well as life-support equipment like ventilators, incubators and heart, lung and dialysis machines. 

The government slapped the ban on imports in December last year after the nation’s foreign exchange reserves started depleting because of external debt repayments. The country’s current forex reserves are barely enough to cover only about 18 days of imports. 

Islamabad is currently negotiating with the IMF for the resumption of its stalled $7 billion bailout program to avert the looming default. 

Ahmed said he was not expecting the government to lift the import ban anytime soon, even if it reached an agreement with the global lender to secure the next tranche of more than $1 billion. 

He said the depreciation of the Pakistani currency had also made it impossible for them to supply the products. The Pakistani currency has depreciated by around Rs100 against the greenback over the last one year amid a drop in export revenue, remittances and foreign direct investment. 

“We cannot meet the demand of public and private hospitals, clinics and medical labs in this situation,” he continued. 

“Ultimately, patients have been suffering since the prices of medical tests, surgeries and treatment have already increased exponentially.” 

The Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) said the shortage of devices was “severely impacting” the wellbeing of patients, who needed advanced respiratory support or intensive care due to cardiac arrest or for major surgeries. 

“Stents for heart patients and necessary equipment for ventilators are unavailable in the market,” PMA secretary-general Dr. Abdul Ghafoor Shoro told Arab News. 

“There is a crisis-level shortage of health care devices and doctors are resorting to rationing and triage to save lives of critical patients.” 

When approached, the Pakistani health ministry said it had already written a letter to the central bank to include “imports of medicines and health care devices in the priority list.” 

“We are aware of the situation and tracking it on daily basis with all stakeholders,” Sajid Hussain Shah, a health ministry spokesperson, told Arab News. 

“Yes, the cost of everything has gone up with the rupee’s depreciation, but public hospitals are still trying their best to provide maximum services and treatment for free.” 


Saudi, Iranian foreign ministers to meet during Ramadan

Updated 27 March 2023

Saudi, Iranian foreign ministers to meet during Ramadan

  • The diplomats discussed in a phone call a number of issues relating to the trilateral agreement signed in China 
  • The Kingdom and Iran agreed on March 10 to re-establish diplomatic ties and reopen their embassies within two months

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan and his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, have agreed to meet during the month of Ramadan, the Saudi Press Agency reported early Monday. 

The diplomats also discussed in a phone call a number of issues relating to the trilateral agreement signed in China. 

"During the call, a number of common issues were discussed in light of the tripartite agreement that was signed in the People's Republic of China," Saudi state news agency SPA said. 

“The two ministers also agreed to hold a bilateral meeting between them during the ongoing month of Ramadan.” 

Ramadan is likely to end on April 20. 

The Kingdom and Iran agreed on March 10 to re-establish diplomatic relations and reopen their embassies within two months following years of tensions. 


Ex-PM Khan to appear before Islamabad court seeking bail in cases over clashes with police 

Updated 27 March 2023

Ex-PM Khan to appear before Islamabad court seeking bail in cases over clashes with police 

  • Hundreds of Khan supporters clashed with police on March 18 as the ex-PM led a caravan to an Islamabad court 
  • Islamabad administration has banned public gatherings in the capital, tightened security ahead of Khan appearance 

ISLAMABAD: Former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan will appear before an Islamabad court on Monday, today, to seek bail in five cases registered against him over clashes between his supporters and the capital police earlier this month. 

Hundreds of Khan supporters clashed with police on March 18 as the former premier led a caravan to the Pakistani capital from the eastern city of Lahore to appear before an Islamabad district court in a case involving the sale of state gifts. 

The clashes left several people injured on both sides and forced the court to adjourn proceedings of the case, popularly known as the Toshakhana reference, until March 30. However, Khan was booked in five more cases over clashes outside the Islamabad judicial complex. 

The Islamabad administration has imposed Section 144 (ban on public gatherings and display of weapons) in the federal capital, whereas the capital police have tightened security ahead of Khan’s appearance before the court. 

“Section 144 is in force in Islamabad. Violators will be arrested,” the Islamabad police said on Twitter. “In the light of court orders, only concerned persons will be allowed to enter the court premises.” 

Khan, who was ousted in a parliamentary no-trust vote in April last year, has for months been agitating against the government of PM Shehbaz Sharif and pushing for snap elections nationwide. 

He later dissolved two provincial legislatures ruled by his party and allies in a bid to pressure the government into announcing snap polls. 

The former premier faces dozens of cases across the country, with charges against him ranging from terrorism to sedition. 


In southwest Pakistan, fried vermicelli is everyone’s favorite Ramadan delight

Updated 27 March 2023

In southwest Pakistan, fried vermicelli is everyone’s favorite Ramadan delight

  • Many Pakistanis, fasting from dawn till dusk, prefer the staple, called ‘pheni,’ with hot milk in pre-dawn meals
  • Customers complain of increase in pheni’s price, bakery owners attribute it to soaring inflation across the country

QUETTA: After offering afternoon prayers, 54-year-old Muhammad Aziz starts displaying buckets filled with round bunches of fried vermicelli, called “pheni,” to attract customers to a local sweet shop in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta. Aziz, who works as a manager at the sweet shop, says the demand for the staple food item “increases” in southwest Pakistan during the holy month of Ramadan. 

In southwestern Pakistan, pheni is a Ramadan delight as people love to consume the light food item in their pre-dawn sehri meals. Vermicelli enthusiasts often consume it with hot milk and tea, which helps them avoid heavier meals during suhoor. 

“The demand for pheni increases in Ramadan because customers eat it with hot milk in their suhoor,” Aziz, 54, told Arab News on Saturday. “In Ramadan, we sell almost five to six buckets a day and each bucket contains 15-20 kilogram of pheni.” 

Mumtaz Ali, 43, has been making vermicelli for the last 20 years at Quality Sweets, a famous sweet shop in Quetta. Ali says his team, which comprises 12 members, works for 15 hours a day during Ramadan to prepare six sacks of vermicelli. 

Each sack weighs 85kg. 

“In Ramadan we hire extra labor who work in the vermicelli section for a month but we stop making pheni after the 23rd of Ramadan,” Ali told Arab News, adding that the focus then shifts toward confectionary items for Eid. 

Explaining how the snack is prepared, Ali says “high quality” of flour is used to make vermicelli, which his workers knead with their hands and through machines. Next, it is mixed with water and salt. 

“Then we apply ghee to it and later we stretch the dough and make them into dough balls,” he said. “We then bring it here [to the kitchen] and fry it here to bring it into this position.” 

With inflation soaring to a decades-high in the country, bakery owners in Balochistan have also increased the price of pheni this Ramadan season. A kilogram of the round, slender threads has risen to Rs650 ($2.30) from Rs500 ($1.74) last year. 

“Inflation increases day-by-day, previously it increased in a year but now prices jump within a week,” Muhammad Javed Butt, who owns a bakery in Quetta, told Arab News. 

“Flour and oil prices have increased which is why we have to slightly up the [pheni’s] rate to maintain its quality.” 

But it nonetheless remains a part of people’s pre-dawn meals in Balochistan, he added. 

Khalid Hussain, 65, who buys pheni for his family every Ramadan, said they have it in sehr and iftar with milk. 

“Children love it a lot, they mix it with milk and really enjoy it,” he told Arab News. 

Hussain said there may be many baked items for Ramadan but pheni is the “most eatable” one. 


‘Wonderful’ Afghanistan thump Pakistan to claim T20I series in Sharjah

Updated 55 min 5 sec ago

‘Wonderful’ Afghanistan thump Pakistan to claim T20I series in Sharjah

  • Needing 22 off last two overs, Najibullah and Mohammad Nabi hit a six each in penultimate over
  • Zadran then hit the winning boundary off Zaman Khan’s last over to chase down the 131-run target

SHARJAH: Afghanistan overcame late nerves in the closing overs to beat Pakistan by seven wickets in the second Twenty20 international on Sunday and take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the three-game series. 

Needing 30 off the last three overs, and 22 from the last two, Najibullah Zadran and Mohammad Nabi hit a six each off pace bowler Naseem Shah in the penultimate over to reduce the target to five runs. 

Zadran then hit the winning boundary off Zaman Khan’s last over to chase down the 131-run target with one ball to spare. 

“It’s a great honor and pleasure to lead this wonderful team,” said Afghanistan skipper Rashid Khan. 

“It was a great effort with the ball, and then we took it deep and finished it.” 

He added: “I think 130 was a good total. We tried our best to take it deep and finish it. Our strategy was to go out there and make sure you take responsibility. We have players to finish it like Nabi and Najib.” 

Pakistan’s 130-6 in 20 overs was built around a sedate 57-ball 64 not out by all-rounder Imad Wasim — his maiden T20I half century. 

This was Afghanistan’s first bilateral T20I series against any of the top six teams — India, England, Pakistan, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. 

They have previously won a T20I series each against the West Indies and Bangladesh and five in five against Zimbabwe. 

Rahmanullah Gurbaz (44 off 49 balls) and Ibrahim Zadran (38 off 40 balls) set the platform during their 56-run second wicket stand. 

However, their slow batting left Afghanistan needing to score 46 off the last 30 balls. 

Najibullah (23) and Nabi (14) remained unbeaten to seal the victory. 

“Our motive for this series was to check out talented young players and we have to back them in the future,” said Pakistan captain Shadab Khan. 

Earlier, Pakistan’s recovery was led by Imad who hit two sixes and three boundaries to rescue Pakistan from 63-5 after winning the toss and batting. 

Imad and Shadab (32) added 67 for the sixth wicket. 

Pakistan had got off to a disastrous start with left-arm pacer Fazalhaq Farooqi claiming Saim Ayub and Abdullah Shafique, both for nought, in the first over of the innings. 

Farooqi finished with 2-19 in his four overs. 

Shafique has now been dismissed for nought on four successive occasions in five T20Is since making his debut in November 2020. 

Mohammad Haris hit a six and two boundaries in his nine-ball 15 while Tayyab Tahir scored a 23-ball 13. 

The stockily built Azam Khan, who rose to fame with his power hitting in the recent Pakistan Super League, fell to spinner Rashid Khan, scoring just one after his nought in the first game. 

Shadab, who is deputising for rested skipper Babar Azam, hit three boundaries in his 25-ball knock. 

Imad’s previous best of 47 had come against Sri Lanka in Lahore in 2019. 


‘Friendly countries’ expected to fulfill commitments for IMF deal — finance minister

Updated 26 March 2023

‘Friendly countries’ expected to fulfill commitments for IMF deal — finance minister

  • Pakistan would not default, government doing its best to steer Pakistan out of “difficult situation,” says Ishaq Dar
  • Dar had said Pakistan’s IMF deal being delayed over friendly countries’ assurances to fund balance of payment gap

ISLAMABAD: Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said on Sunday that “friendly countries” were expected to materialize their commitments to Pakistan which would pave the way for Islamabad to finalize its loan revival deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) said in a report.

Earlier this month, Dar told Pakistani parliamentarians that Pakistan’s deal with the IMF is being delayed as the global lender wants assurances and commitments from “friendly countries” to fund its balance of payments gap to materialize.

Though the finance minister did not name the “friendly countries” specifically, it is understood that he was referring to Saudi Arabia, China and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). All three are close allies of Pakistan who have bailed come to its aid whenever Islamabad faces an economic crisis.

Pakistan has been struggling to revive a stalled loan program with the IMF which would unlock a tranche of $1.1 billion, crucial for the country to stave off a balance of payment crisis. The South Asian country’s reserves have dipped to historic lows over the past couple of months, as it desperately seeks external financing to pay off its debts and sustain its economy.

“Addressing as chief guest an Iftar dinner hosted by the Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ICCI) in honor of foreign diplomats, Dar said that friendly countries were expected to materialize their commitments with Pakistan that would pave the way to close the deal with the IMF and revive the economy,” the APP said.

The finance minister said Pakistan “would not default,” adding that the government was doing its best to steer the country out of a “difficult situation” to ensure its sustainable growth.

While Pakistan desperately waits for the IMF to revive the stalled loan program, the South Asian country grapples with decades-high inflation and a deepening political crisis. Pakistan’s restrictions on imports — in its bid to prevent the outflow of dollars — have caused banks to delay or deny the opening of Letter of Credits (LCs) for the import of goods.