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Reflections on a post-pandemic future

Despite the enormous and unimaginable loss of life and livelihood, now that the end of Covid-19 pandemic is finally in sight, the global disruption presents an opportunity to take a step back and reflect.

The pandemic catalyzed both the public and private sectors, leading to collaborations like never before in diagnostics, technology, and treatment. In 2021 alone, India received USD 7.7 billion of committed investments across 25 projects. Whereas most countries in the South-Asia region saw a sharp drop in private investment commitments compared to 2020, India saw a 49-percent increase.

At this time, the Indian healthcare system in Tier-II and Tier-III cities evolved like never before. From telemedicine to video consultation during the lockdown, their contribution has been greatly appreciated to connect the remote areas. Many start-ups emerged, and did a commendable job. Hospital chains, including the proposed AIIMS setups in Awantipora, Rewari, Darbhanga, and Madurai, will make it possible for these cities to emerge as major healthcare hubs.

The MedTech industry found some improvement in its bottom line, albeit there was major decline in sales for most non-Covid products, coupled with supply chain issues. The customers no longer wanted innumerable, in-person sales calls. Less participation in exhibitions also added to major savings.

However, several local units making masks, PPE kits, thermometers, and gloves had to close down amid declining demand as Covid-19 waned. A similar challenge confronts the path labs conducting TrueNat and CBNAAT tests that had been set up for the pandemic, at break-neck speed.

The medical tourism industry is rapidly making a turnaround from a negative growth of 79.4 percent over 2020 to an anticipated, robust 19 percent CAGR in 2022. Government’s proposed outlay of USD 28.7 billion for health and well-being, 137 percent higher than the previous year’s budget outlay, will go a long way to realize the targeted tripled forex revenue to USD 13 billion within 4 years.

The MedTech industry expects that with the recently notified Medical Devices Rules, imports from China will be curtailed to a large extent. The amendment says that by October 1, 2022, all class A&B, and by October 1, 2023, all class C&D MedTech manufacturers need to transition from registration to the licensing regime. This includes furnishing details on country-of-origin and the manufacturing site.

The recent announcement from the Ministry of Commerce of setting up the much-awaited Medical Devices Exports Promotion Council is welcome, as is the reconstituted National Medical Devices Promotion Council’s decision to move forward to harmonize the provisions of labelling of medical devices under the Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodity) Rules, 2011, into Medical Devices Rules, 2017, for the licensed medical devices.

Of course, the industry still has a long way to go. Harmonization of global standards and of GST rates, inverted duty structure, R&D and innovation-linked schemes, RoDTEP and exports, technology upgradation for domestic medical devices companies, separate fund for common facilities, and expansion of PLI schemes to more import-dependent medical devices are just a few issues that need to be addressed to realize the growth potential of a MedTech industry of USD 50 billion by 2025.

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