The healthcare sector in India has found itself at the epicentre of the daunting challenge posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The private sector and local manufacturers have risen to the occasion by providing support in testing, preparing isolation beds for COVID-19 patients, building Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) kits, and more.
There should be an acute focus on Making in India for global health and reimagining (or rebooting) healthcare delivery. The focus of the indigenous industry related to the manufacturing of PPE gear, hand and surface sanitizers, N95 masks, ventilators, etc. should be on end-to-end manufacturing of every product.
This approach will go a long way in further strengthening the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat‘ mission, along with giving a boost to India’s exports during these turbulent times.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted vulnerabilities in the medical manufacturing supply chain and the shortcomings of overdependence on imports. Though India’s medical devices industry currently contributes 5 percent of the overall healthcare sector, it has the potential to reach US$ 50 billion by 2025. However, currently, more than 75 percent of the total medical device sales in India is coming from imported products.
Apart from the sector’s import dependence, the pandemic has exposed issues such as high Goods and Services Tax (GST) rates, lack of investment, etc. that are stalling the growth of the medical technology industry. The industry will receive a huge boost with the Central Government’s announcement for incentivising Indian players (that produce key medical devices) with at least ₹ 3,420 crores, over five years. The long-term focus of the industry should be on building world-class products that would enable them to tap into the global markets.
To build the domestic medical device industry, there is an immediate need for setting up at least four to five Medical Technology Zones complying with world-class standards and specifications. These specific zones can cater to building specialized equipment.
Medical Technology (MedTech) is reimagining India’s healthcare landscape and incentivising R&D in MedTech will further accelerate the growth of the sector. Despite the huge inter-relatedness of the healthcare continuum, work is still done in silos.
The pandemic has highlighted the criticality of having a single window comprising of different nodal ministries. This convergence will help in easing the business of the players involved in the MedTech sector. Emphasis should be laid on building a robust and collaborative healthcare ecosystem that brings diverse stakeholders such as health ministry officials, manufacturers, academia, research organizations, and policymakers under a single MedTech umbrella.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digital transformation in healthcare and the sector will become more digitalized with time. Technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Virtual Reality (VR), medical Internet of Things (IoT), etc. will play a pivotal role in precise decision making. Technology will be a change-agent for healthcare providers, especially in areas related to inpatient care, outpatient care, and intensive care.
For realising India’s aims to become a hub in future healthcare, all that is manufactured in the healthcare continuum must adhere to a standardized quality benchmark. Along with the manufacture of devices such as ventilators, a renewed focus should be put on the ancillary industry for components like valves, sensors, magnets, etc.
The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has prepared a roadmap for effective healthcare delivery services. From proposing zero rating GST on healthcare services, National Medical Device Policy to promoting indigenous manufacturing, CII has recommended to grant ‘infrastructure status’ to the bulk drug industry to minimise the dependence on the import of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API).
The prioritisation of a robust medical supply chain is of paramount importance in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. This should be coupled with a strong local R&D setup for basic research.
Focus on quality, access to capital, and convergence of inter-related sectors of the healthcare continuum will be critical for transforming India into a global manufacturing hub for an array of medical equipment and pharmaceutical products.