11% of India’s medical devices imports are from China

Maitri Porecha New Delhi | Updated on June 19, 2020

But in some devices the dependence is as high as 87%

A majority of India’s medical devices ranging from a simple thermometer to cotton wool and electrocardiograph (ECG) machines to catheters are imported, and up to 11 per cent of them are from China, the latest import data from the Ministry of Commerce showed.

In certain device categories, Chinese imports are as high as 87 per cent of total imports.

In 2019-20, India imported medical devices worth ₹42,245 crore of which China accounted for a 11 per cent share at ₹4,559 crore.

Of the 147 categories of devices, analysis of import data showed that the dependence on China was high in 11 product categories. These include acupuncture apparatus, pregnancy confirmation kits, ice bags, clinical thermometers, adhesive gauze bandages, corn and callus removers, fistula needles, weighing scales, hot water bottles, articles of apparel and clothing accessories and poultice of kaolin (used in compression for sprains).

Imports of these 11 categories were worth ₹109.67 crore of which China’s share was ₹95.51 crore (around 87 per cent), according to 2019-20 projections..

Call for new plan

Industry experts say due to Covid-19 and the tense relations with China, the Centre must draw up a long-term plan for making the country self-reliant in the medical device sector.

“Indian manufacturers are losing out to the Chinese as they offer cheaper prices. Also, Indian companies are not able to bid for Chinese tenders as China has a clear policy for supporting their domestic devices. Whereas India on the other hand sees a lot of second hand imports from China and elsewhere in the world, of older devices which are dumped into our hospitals. In a few years, they expire and it is tough to find spare parts to repair older devices,” said Rajiv Nath, Managing Director of Hindustan Syringes and Medical Devices.

For another nine devices, including certain diagnostic reagents, outer garments, medicated cotton wool, digital thermometers, blood pressure instruments, synthetic fibers, India’s dependence on Chinese imports is between 50 and 70 per cent.

India’s imports of these nine items alone are worth ₹1,032 crore, of which China accounts for ₹644.40 crore (up to 62 per cent) as projected for 2019-20.

In the case of 17 devices, which include male condoms, oxygen therapy apparatus, ECGs, hospital beds with mechanical fittings, dentists’ chairs and so on, 25 to 50 per cent of these goods are imported from China, worth up to ₹853.14 crore out of total imports worth ₹2,502.52 crore.

For another 109 devices that India imports, China’s share is smaller (₹2,966.69 crore of ₹38,601.38 crore). These include calorimeters, orthopaedic or fracture appliances, blood transfusion apparatus, surgical bone saws, cannulae, dialysis apparatus, endoscopes, baby incubators, stethoscopes, malaria diagnostic kits, pacemakers, and so on.

While the Centre has now formulated schemes to reduce dependence on import of drug raw materials, a similar scheme for medical devices is yet to take off.

Nath said that the Centre became serious about reducing import dependence after the spread of the pandemic, but imports were opened up after April again. The Centre needs to work towards helping local manufacturing, he added.

Published on June 19, 2020

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