Tuesday March 28, 2023

LC issues threaten x-ray films supply in Pakistan

February 02, 2023
Representational image of a medic looking at an x-ray. — AFP/File
Representational image of a medic looking at an x-ray. — AFP/File

KARACHI: Pakistan may face a healthcare crisis as banks are not opening or retarding letters of credit (LCs) for future import of x-ray films, which is the first line of defence for any medical diagnosis, the industry said on Wednesday.

Hospitals are left with a limited stock of x-ray films, which may lead to a serious crisis as the films are used in operations theaters, and also for computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, according to an official from Fujifilm Pakistan, a major supplier of medical x-ray films in the country.

“The industry has only 20-30 days of stocks and after that, hospitals will run short of films and diagnoses will be impossible then,” he said.

Around a month’s stock was stuck at the ports or high seas, which should be cleared at the earliest, he added.

The official explained that medical x-ray films have a yearly import requirement of $20 million or $1.6 million in a month, and urged the government to take measures before the situated gets worst.

“Govt hospitals are now asking for the supply of stocks. Our suppliers are ready with the stocks but waiting for LCs to ship the orders.”

He feared that the situation could lead to smuggling that would rob the government of the taxes. “The government is losing revenue of approximately $550,000 per month.”

The source maintained that a minimum of $1 million in LCs was required every month to keep the hospitals running.

X-ray films are considered the first line of defence in any diagnosis, bone fractures, chest x-rays for pneumonia or Covid. They are the basic consumable of radiology and emergency departments. CT and MRI scans also use medical x-ray films for imaging. In operation theaters, the films are used to determine the scope of an operation.

The market of x-ray films in terms of size is around 3,500,000 square meters, which translates to almost 100,000 exposures in a day in hospitals across the country.

There are approximately 7500 govt and private hospitals and clinics in Pakistan, and the entire requirement of medical x-ray films is imported from Europe, Japan, USA, and China.

Due to the scale of economies, there are only 5 plants in the world manufacturing medical x-ray films, according to the Fujifilm Pakistan official.

Pakistan’s current fragile economic condition, marred by rapidly-depleting foreign exchange reserves, has forced banks to be selective in opening LCs even for sectors such as healthcare.