India’s medical devices sector has emerged as one of the fastest growing in the country. In 2020, its market size was estimated to be USD 11 billion with a 1.5% share in the global market. After Japan, China, and Korea, India is Asia’s fourth largest medical equipment manufacturer, producing over 6,000 types of devices. The market is poised to grow up to USD 50 billion by 2025.
While this is an extraordinary achievement for the country, it is of vital importance at this time to think of the environmental impact due to the waste generated and the costs associated with medical equipment. Healthcare waste is of three types: infectious waste which can harm people’s health, hazardous waste which comprises surgery equipment and needles, and radioactive waste produced by cancer treatment and machines that use it. Of the total healthcare waste generated, 85% comprises non-hazardous waste that can be treated and reused. However, they continue to fill up landfills, exacerbating the environmental crisis. At the same time, procuring new materials increases the expenditure which can be financially untenable for smaller healthcare establishments. In this situation, recycling can reduce the overuse of natural resources which have been stretched thin over the years and provide a cost-effective alternative for many healthcare establishments.
Benefits of recycling medical equipment
Accessibility and affordability: Many hospitals in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities and villages still face a shortage of the necessary equipment. As the burden of chronic diseases grows, patients are forced to travel to better-equipped facilities in cities, costing them time and money. Recycling medical equipment can ensure that hospitals in resource-limited settings have the tools to provide life-saving treatment. Patients can thus gain access to appropriate facilities. Furthermore, recycling can enable hospitals that lack capital to procure advanced equipment. This can help bridge healthcare disparities across the country.
Reducing environmental impact and improving sustainability: The country has an estimated 69,000 hospitals that generate vast amounts of waste, which is detrimental to the environment due to the greenhouse emissions they generate. Improper disposal can lead to outbreaks of infectious diseases. Recycling of durable medical equipment, on the other hand, reduces the amount of waste dumped in landfills and helps minimise the carbon footprint. Since hospitals pay to dispose of medical waste, reusing equipment can bring down the associated costs.
There are several challenges that prevent recycled equipment from being an integral part of the Indian healthcare ecosystem.
Lack of awareness: There is very little awareness about the benefits of reusing equipment, especially plastics. The healthcare sector utilises a plethora of single-use plastics but there is negligible awareness about their recyclability. Many consider used medical equipment to be of inferior quality and choose to avoid it altogether.
Regulatory issues: The Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules, are responsible for overseeing the import of used critical care medical equipment for reuse. Though some of them have been banned from reuse, the country does not have a specific definition or criteria for refurbishing medical devices.
Logistical bottlenecks: Safety, storage, and transportation hamper the process of the effective integration of recycling medical equipment. The lack of resources exacerbates these problems.
Recycling medical equipment is beneficial not just for the environment but for the economy too. Technology can play a major role in streamlining and making the recycling process smoother by providing end-to-end platforms for the lifecycle management of medical equipment. These platforms can provide solutions such as maintenance, part replacement, repair, reconditioning, and restoration for timeworn components. Tech-based solutions can reduce the burden of old equipment that is usable from being unnecessarily dumped and bridge the gap between demand and supply. This can help equip hospitals in the most remote corners with the necessary life-saving tools to provide specialized care.
The future lies in sustainable healthcare management. For the concept to gain traction, private and government healthcare institutions and various stakeholders need to create a collaborative framework that encourages recycling for a greener future. ABP