Over the last few decades, India has emerged as the pharma hub of the world, being the largest supplier of generic medicines, producing over 60 percent of the world’s vaccines and employing over 2.7 million people. India is also among the top 20 medical devices markets in the world, the fourth largest in Asia (after China, Japan, and South Korea), with production growing at a compound annual growth rate of 16 percent over the last decade. However, at present, India is hugely dependent on imports to meet the domestic demand for medical technology, including diagnostics.
In the beginning of the pandemic, most of the world did not have the diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventive tools needed to fight the pandemic, and India was no exception. However, our pharma and MedTech industry rose to the challenge and provided vaccines, protective equipment, and diagnostic and therapeutic agents for domestic as well as international needs.
We are in the enviable position of vaccinating a majority of our considerable population against Covid-19. India’s Covid-19 vaccine manufacturing success is well known across the world but what is not as well known is that India is also one of the largest manufacturers of auto-disable syringes for immunization. Our domestic industry was able to quickly meet the demand for the unprecedented public immunization campaign for Covid-19, ensuring seamless vaccination. The domestic in-vitro diagnostics industry also quickly developed and mass produced diagnostic kits for Covid-19 not only for laboratory use but also rapid antigen detecting kits that can easily be used by a common person at home, thereby helping to limit the spread of the virus. These are now easily available across the country at a reasonable price, and are being used by healthcare practitioners at the point of care, enabling them to quickly provide the correct treatment. Almost overnight, India also became one of the largest manufacturers of personal protective equipment, necessary to safeguard our healthcare workers and essential personnel.
The pandemic experience has demonstrated the expertise and capability of our MedTech industry for innovation and mass production of quality, low-cost medical devices and diagnostics to meet domestic and international demand. It is imperative that we harness these capacities, building on the pandemic experience to make India a manufacturing hub for medical devices and diagnostics.
The Covid-19 pandemic has heralded the age of pandemics. Already, monkeypox has been declared a public health emergency of international concerns with the potential to become another pandemic. Frantic efforts are on to develop vaccines and therapeutic agents to combat this disease, along with combating the ever-evolving variants of SARS-COV 2. Climate change is also impacting existing infectious diseases changing their infectivity. At the same time, non-communicable diseases are emerging as the largest killers across the globe.
In this new world order, the demand for point-of-care diagnostics and medical devices for treatment and management of disease conditions is only expected to soar. Just as Covid-19 made pulse oximeters a ubiquitous household item, the diabetes epidemic is expected to massively increase demand for blood glucose monitors. Demand for devices like implants and stents will also increase with improved life expectancy, patient expectation for quality of life, and improved access to tertiary healthcare services through government initiatives like the Ayushman Bharat program, covering large sections of the Indian population.
Therefore, India’s MedTech industry has the opportunity and the capacity to become net exporters instead of remaining dependent on imports. We need enabling regulations and policies from the government, and a positive, bullish sentiment from the industry to Make MedTech in India for the World.
The author is writing in her personal capacity as a health policy and public health expert and has no competing interests.