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How COVID has accelerated the growth of MedTech industry

The COVID-19 pandemic situation was initially dreadfully challenging with a huge population and highly import dependent medical devices sector. With rising cases of COVID-19 and limited capacity, the medical industry was forced to evolve rapidly to combat the ongoing crisis.

The Government of India through its flagship Make in India initiative relied heavily on the Indian manufacturers to meet the rising demand of essential healthcare equipment for the country, pushing the Indian medical devices sector to become self-reliant.

Before the outbreak of COVID-19, there were only 20 firms manufacturing 62 lakh PPE kits per year, but within two-months, the number of manufacturers increased to 140 with 25.55 crore annual capacity.

Similarly, the number of Indian firms manufacturing, ventilator manufacturers went up from 8 to 17, mask manufacturers from 30 to 108, swab manufacturers from zero to five, sanitizer manufacturers from 35 to 49 and RT-PCR kit manufacturers from 0 to 8.

Now when India surges to become self-sustainable or Atmanirbhar, the medical device industry seeks government support in terms of various policy initiatives to create an enabling ecosystem for the indigenous medical device industry to realize its potential.

The key challenges faced by the Indian medical device industry at the onset of COVID pandemic included supply chain issues, operational and infrastructure related issues, policy challenges, serum sample availability related challenges and limited indigenous capacities as against the requirements to effectively address the huge upsurge in unprecedented demand.

The medical device industry seeks flexibility in labor laws and tax incentives. Many exclusive medical device parks on the pattern of Andhra Pradesh MedTech Zone (AMTZ), are required to be developed and supported, which will serve as medical device manufacturing hubs for the country and though the Department of Pharmaceuticals has launched a scheme to promote four such MedTech Parks initially, these will be successfully populated only by supporting policies.

The penal system in the Drugs Act is a disincentive for MedTech investors. The Act is not appropriate for innovative engineering products like medical electronics.

Ventilators could not have been made by multiple new manufacturers in a matter of 3-4 weeks, had the Drugs Act already been applicable on ventilators. At the same time, consumers do need access to high-quality PPEs and ventilators.

An appropriate legal framework envisaged by the NITI Aayog is awaited as a medical devices law that would decriminalize most oversight and regulatory lapses and will have risk-proportionate penalties. This will encourage new entrants to venture into medical devices—as being engineering products and not drugs.

COVID-19 crisis has shown that Indian medical devices sector can rise to the challenge. When imports got disrupted, specific devices detailed with quantified production shortages and a focused Inter-Ministry Group coordinating with domestic manufacturers via AiMeD had addressed production bottlenecks and challenges so that not only capacity got utilized but also ramped up rapidly.

We are glad such initiatives like MedTech CoE will help India to end the huge import dependency of 85 percent and over Rs 42000 crore medical devices import bill forced upon India and make India a MedTech superpower and global medical devices manufacturing hub.

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