The outbreak taught us the importance of local manufacturing, the domestic market and local supply chains
The COVID-19 pandemic presented India with unique conditions that forced the country to fast track innovations in the medical devices sector which, up until now, was highly dependent on imports. The Government’s proactive approach in seeking the participation of entrepreneurs, national and global medical devices companies for innovation and collaboration in the medical devices sector resulted in a host of solutions to help overcome the challenges posed by the pandemic.
As a result of this, several public-private partnerships (PPPs) and collaborations are already underway to address the gaps in the healthcare sector. These range from the COVID-19 Taskforce which brought together various technological advancements related to the virus in public Research & Development (R&D) laboratories, academia, start-ups, and industries to the Department of Pharmaceuticals, which partnered with various Ministries, academia and a group of private companies for the indigenous production of high-quality medical devices at a much lower cost as compared to imported ones.
In the war against COVID-19, the med-tech sector in India has stood firmly with the Government and private healthcare delivery players. The Coronavirus outbreak was especially challenging for India which has always had a highly import-dependent medical devices sector. Through its flagship ‘Make in India’ initiative, the Centre has taken steps in the right direction by relying on local Indian manufacturers to meet the increased demand for essential medical equipment and consumables. Collaboration in the manufacturing sector has never been so important as it has been in the midst of this outbreak. This is because, no manufacturer has been left untouched by the effects of the pandemic. The manufacturing community coming together to produce critical medical supplies for the country, shows that we can do extraordinary things through collaboration.
The world has seen the danger of relying on only a few countries for critical supplies. India has already started promoting itself as an alternative low-cost manufacturing destination. Lots of companies will emerge out of the current crisis with much stronger customer and supplier relationships, which will put them in a good position for the future. To further promote local manufacturing, the Government introduced the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme. The PLI scheme for the medical devices sector will help meet the objective of product diversification and innovation. Under this scheme, the Government has witnessed a very positive response from the industry, whereby 28 applications were submitted by 23 medical device manufacturers and 215 came from 83 pharmaceutical firms. These initiatives have the potential to contribute significantly in achieving self-reliance in the medical technology sector.
In the nation’s attempts to stay ahead of any unforeseen threats, diagnostics has a pivotal role to play. Obtaining timely, patient-level data on emerging threats to global health, including infectious diseases will be crucial in the long run. Framing of disease-control strategies can be aided through capturing and sharing of patient healthcare data from testing which can be instrumental in improving triage and management of infectious diseases before they become severe outbreaks.
India needs to continue with its bold efforts to be able to position itself strongly in the post-pandemic world by creating a more conducive environment for global and domestic manufacturing of medical devices, vaccines and pharma products. With an exemplar shift in global economies and geopolitics, it will be crucial for India to re-strategise a clear long-term road map for the promotion of this industry.
The contagion has accelerated reliance on diagnostics and testing. The focus of the Government since the start of the pandemic has been to scale and upgrade testing infrastructure and ensure availability of testing kits. In addition, the designated COVID -19 laboratories require skilled manpower for operating various instruments and accessories, and for the use of software for accurate reporting of test results.
There is a colossal need to train staff to efficiently handle samples and operate instruments in multiple shifts in order to ramp up the testing capability. Boosting local manufacturing will help in expanding the country’s domestic production and national self-sufficiency for implementing scalable testing strategies. Domestic manufacturers came forward to develop low-cost diagnostic kits, including Viral Transport Media kits, RT-PCR kits and RNA isolation kits, for the pandemic. The large-scale production of all these kits helped meet the requirements of the country, reducing its dependence on imports.
The Novel Coronavirus outbreak has managed to teach us the importance of local manufacturing, the domestic market and local supply chains. Through concerted efforts, the Government, healthcare stakeholders and the industry can drive innovation in diagnostics by making resources available and the healthcare ecosystem more agile in the fight against these emerging threats.
(The author is Managing Director, Poly Medicure Ltd. The views expressed are personal.)