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The case for building a medi-tech bridge with New Zealand

Ralph Hays | | Updated on: Feb 16, 2018
 India will gain from a strategic  partnership with  New Zealand in the medical technology space

India will gain from a strategic partnership with New Zealand in the medical technology space

As the Indian Medical Device conference concludes in Bengaluru this week, the focus is on how the rapidly growing medical device sector can improve healthcare. New Zealand, driven by similar challenges of delivering better, cheaper healthcare, is building an international reputation for the quality of its innovative health offerings.

Whether you live in Bengaluru or Boston, there are three very real pressures on any modern healthcare system: how to make it cheaper (and the price revision of stents is a step towards this goal), more accurate and more accessible to a populace that’s living longer all the time. This is where advances in medical health technologies are revolutionising the way we approach and manage health; from virtual care that relieves pressure on overburdened hospitals, to information technology that tracks emerging issues as they happen, or better yet predicts them before they do, and portable diagnostics to get vital care where it’s needed fast.

In India, however, these challenges are compounded by its huge geographical area and a population that’s growing by more than 15 million each year. One solution is to invest heavily in healthcare, and part of India’s current five-year plan involves an expansion in the number of medical schools and laboratory facilities; however, this can take years, or even decades. An alternative is to strategically partner with a country that already has an established specialism in medical technology, like New Zealand, and apply its innovations to the specific challenges that India faces.

Take the way the two countries are tackling infectious diseases. To successfully fight infections like dengue fever, Zika and tuberculosis requires the rapid identification of infected patients in order to prevent the infection from spreading further. Unfortunately, laboratories are notoriously expensive to build, are usually centralised in major cities and struggle to cope with the volume of samples, which need to be cold-shipped from the outbreak site.

This is where India’s relationship with one New Zealand company, Pictor, is now saving lives. World leaders in immunodiagnostics, Pictor set out to discover how world-class and affordable blood tests could be delivered successfully to vast populations, often in rural areas. The result is PictArray, a portable diagnostic system that’s simple to use, cheap to operate, can run eight separate tests from a single drop of blood and provides reliable results in just 90 minutes. Thanks to its initial success on the ground, State governments across India are now aiming to have 400,000 PictArrays operating over the next few years, handling 70 per cent of the nations’ blood tests.

Another challenge facing national healthcare systems, but particularly so in India, is the need to spot, understand and react to emerging trends and healthcare issues. To do this successfully, however, requires access to accurate records and analytics; yet, across much of the world, this data currently exists only in paper form. The solution is a digital patient management system that can improve quality of care, prevent the loss of records, simplify administration and most importantly reduce errors — something New Zealand pioneered, with 95 per cent of primary care physicians and 100 per cent of our laboratories communicating via secure data networks every day.

Digitising records has been prohibitively expensive and time-consuming; however, Medtech Global, founded in New Zealand and active in India since 2008 from its Chennai office, has developed an easy-to-use system for scanning paper records and transferring them to keyword-accessible digital storage — a system now used in more than 30 hospitals across India, with 20 million patient records digitised so far.

The challenges are vast, but India has both a thirst and an aptitude for applying new technology — from innovative hardware, to streamlined software that improves the delivery of care, and ultimately people’s health, combined with the urgency to do so. The end result can only save lives, both now and in the future.

(The writer is New Zealand's Trade Commissioner and Consul General (Mumbai). Views expressed are personal.)

Published on February 16, 2018

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