Western countries cater to over 80 percent of medical device requirements in India’s healthcare sector, with countries like the US, Germany, China, Singapore and the Netherlands being the sources. India’s dependency on imported medical devices revolves mostly around electronic equipment, surgical instruments, consumables and disposables, implants and in vitro diagnostic medical device reagents.
MoneyControl spoke to Siraj Dhanani, CEO and founder of Bengaluru-based InnAccel Technologies, a medical technology innovation company that develops technologies compatible with the resource constraints faced by and price sensitivity needed in India. Edited excerpts:
What are the main issues of healthcare in India that you aim to address through technology?
We do research and engineering to create new technologies so that we can launch them in the Indian and global market settings. Unlike a lot of med-tech companies in India, our goal is to find gaps that existing technologies are not addressing today and create new technologies.
We intend to find problems that are causing a lot of death or morbidity in India, also globally, that are not today adequately addressed by any technology, and then create new technology platforms to solve these.
Usually, we file patents globally and create a product that has global regulatory certifications.
The government is contemplating courses for medical professionals so that technology can be used in healthcare. How crucial is technology in terms of assisting healthcare in a country like India?
The potential of technology is huge in India’s healthcare, and the potential is completely untapped. We say there’s a product fetish. For example, we have made a non-invasive ventilation system for babies. It is groundbreaking, but it’s not something completely new. The point is to make technology that works in every scenario. That is really the big gap that we are trying to solve here in India.
India has a high dependence on foreign countries as far as medical devices go. How do you think the import reliance can be reduced?
There are two components to a medical device. One is the actual R&D engineering and intellectual property. In a developed market, the first part and the second part are largely separated. Just like in pharma there’ll be companies that will be doing drug R&D, but they will get it manufactured by a contract manufacturer. So we have to understand the whole value of manufacturing. One very easy way for us to reduce that import bill is to subsidise large manufacturing of high-volume items. So getting manufacturing done is a reasonably easy problem to solve by throwing money at it.
What are the challenges in terms of operational challenges for medical technology?
I think the government is becoming pretty serious about healthcare in terms of expenditure, especially after COVID. Beyond infrastructure and investment, I think India has a big gap in the quality of human resources, something that is very important. These are long-term problems that require longer-term structural solutions.
You manufacture a portable device for neonatal breathing support. How different is this from the imported ones?
We have made a low-cost portable device, Saans, to provide breathing support to infants in a non-ICU setting. The product fulfils a critical need in birthing centres. It has a six-hour battery backup and weighs less than 5 kg, is portable, and it can work on electricity or on its own rechargeable battery, or compressed gases. It’s robust and easy to use. It is also the world’s first CPAP device (continuous positive airway pressure devices help keep airways open) to have a manual powering option.
What was the impact after this product reached hospitals?
We have treated more than 25,000 or 30,000 patients for the neonatal product. We have deployed this in India and in Ethiopia. An estimated 7,000 to 8,000 babies’ lives have been saved using this.
Apart from this, what is your company doing in medical technology?
We also have a product which is a new technology for labour monitoring (in expecting women). Monitoring pregnancy and labour is another area that we are working on. The technology that exists today for this is based on ultrasound and the Doppler method.Another area of our work is to monitor lung infection when a patient is on a ventilator. There is a high likelihood that a patient who is on the ventilator gets a lung infection, which eventually causes death. So this problem of lung infection in ventilated patients is what our new technology addresses.