Sidebar: Looking to broaden access
A World Health Organization report found that 60 percent of Indians lack access to health care facilities. But according to an Indian government study, the reality is worse: More than 75 percent of the country’s 1.2 billion inhabitants lack health care access, the government concluded, because three-quarters of the population lives on less than 50 cents a day. With barely enough rupees to sustain a hand-to-mouth existence, little is left to pay a $1 (55-rupee) medical consultation fee, much less pay for medicine.
That’s the reality of India’s health care system—and the odds its medical startups are up against.
Experts say development of a rational health care system in India hinges on three fundamentals: basic health care, including nutrition and vitamin supplements for mothers and children; disease prevention through vaccinations and polio eradication; and chronic care management. “There are some basic health care programs by the government for the first two categories, but we are way behind in the third category,” said Amit Mookim, head of the health care practice for consultancy KPMG in India.
In response, established companies like GE, Philips, Siemens, IBM and HP are focusing on the rural market as part of their medical electronics efforts in India, while an eclectic collection of nimble startups is scrambling to serve a huge market in need of innovation.
The larger companies are focusing development on portable medical devices like ultrasound and ECG machines that can be widely used in rural areas. Some of those products have found new markets in other developing countries as well.
The Philips Innovation Center in Bangalore recently launched a portable ultrasound machine for the Indian market, said Wido Menhardt, the center’s CEO. “The strategy here is to make several products with a lower price tag for smaller hospitals. For us, the Indian market is not merely large hospitals but medium and smaller ones, too, where we are seeing a huge potential.” Philips also is looking at ways to use mobile technology to transfer medical data from the field to physicians.
Startups are working on a broad range of applications, including remote transmission of blood test and other data; biometric diagnostic devices; SIM card-enabled heart rate monitors; cardiac resuscitation gear; remote trauma care devices; cheap, efficient retinal scanners; devices that estimate and mitigate blood loss; improved patient transport; and novel ways to treat deep vein thrombosis.
Bangalore startup iWave Systems is using an ARM-based module to develop a low-cost but high-performance skin analyzer, along with ophthalmic equipment. “We are working with a Japanese company and developing both the software and hardware for these products, which are being sold in India,” said Mohamed Saliya, an iWave founder.
Said KPMG’s Mookim: “We are working with half a dozen expats who want to set up companies or work in the medical domain, and all of them have innovative ideas for the rural and the urban poor. Going forward, we could see a few acquisitions taking place, where some of the innovative Indian startups would be [acquired by] larger companies.” — Sufia Tippu
|The biopharma sector in India contributes nearly three-fifths of the country's total biotech industry revenues. The biopharma and bioservices sectors contributed 63 percent and 33 percent, respectively, to total biotech exports over the period studied.