Mumbai: It’s not just critical medicines that could witness potential shortages due to the coronavirus outbreak. Commonly used medical devices like digital thermometers, infrared thermometers, nebulizers, blood pressure monitors and glucometers could face the same risk soon.
Manufacturers of med devices have started pressing the panic button as they are running out of key raw materials — mainly the electronic parts for these items, imported from regions like Hangzhou and Dongguan in China. With no sign of supplies being replenished anytime soon, their assembly lines could face closure from March-end or April onwards.
At present, a majority of the demand for infrared thermometers (temperature gun) is from China itself, which is facing the worst-ever outbreak with cases still rising. There have been hundreds of enquiries, particularly for infrared & digital thermometers, from neighbouring countries too like South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong, and even African countries.
As a result, a section of the industry wants the government to restrict exports of such critical items as infrared & digital thermometers, and three-layer surgical masks to build a stockpile to tackle the pandemic.
Further, with the disruption in supply chain, increase in prices of raw materials & components and higher cost of shipments, margins for companies are getting squeezed, which could impact profitability. Worst hit are companies that import finished devices (from China) and market them in India, and those that assemble items after importing the raw materials/components from China.
The $15-billion medical devices market is heavily import-dependent — at around 80%, with imaging equipment (CT & MRI scanners), cardiac stents, orthopaedic implants, syringes, glucometers, and critical care equipment cornering a large share (see graphic). For consumables and disposables like gloves, crepe bandages, IV sets, blood transfusion sets and syringes, there are several small to medium players, largely in the unorganised sector. Only 10-20% medical devices are manufactured in India, and even for these there’s a high dependence on input raw materials and components from China now. “The small to medium players will get impacted due to coronavirus as they are dependent on China for raw materials, components and packaging materials. Most companies have one-two months of stock. We may see some disruption in the coming weeks. Already domestic raw material suppliers have started increasing prices,” said Himanshu Baid, MD of Poly Medicure. The company is engaged in IV catheters, blood bags and dialyzers. Baid added the company is not impacted as it has minimal imports from China.
The problem is acute for both infrared & digital thermometers with companies and wholesale distributors fast running out of stock. Infrared or non-contact forehead thermometers used at public places and airports are fully imported (with no indigenous manufacture). For digital thermometers, a few companies import electronic components from China, and assembly is done here.
With the number of coronavirus cases rising, China is scrambling to import infrared thermometers from India, at even three-four times the earlier rate of Rs 800-900, according to a market player. For digital thermometers, wholesale rates have doubled to Rs 70. Earlier, rates of masks had skyrocketed amid the surge in demand following the outbreak.
“We have 20,000 pieces of Infi digital thermometer which will end in a month, after which there are no stocks of electronic components,” said Tarun Arora, director of Infinity Mediquip. As for nebulizers, where the company is a significant player, he says the assembly line will have to be shut in April if shipments do not move from China soon. H C Gupta of Hicks Thermometers (India), a company which has a major share in digital thermometers and imports the finished product, said it is on the verge of zero stocks of both thermometers and BP instruments, due to supplies being indefinitely delayed.
Companies assembling blood pressure monitors and glucometers are facing a glitch too. “We are facing problems in supply of raw materials for pregnancy kits, thermometers and nebulizers, and have stocks till April,” J S Kohli, who has an assembly unit in Delhi, said.
Association of Indian Manufacturers of Medical Devices (AiMeD) forum coordinator Rajiv Nath says India needs to urgently create a stockpile of essential drugs and critical medical devices for disaster management. Dr G S K Velu of Trivitron Healthcare summed it up by saying that the real impact on industry will be visible only after April. The local manufacturers should become a reliable source in global shortages — whether it’s thermometers, water bottles or adhesive bandages.-Times Of India