COVID-19 is a contagious disease that tends to affect the respiratory system in humans caused by the SARS-COV-2 virus. In December 2019, the virus was first encountered in Wuhan, China and the infection quickly spread across China, and then other countries.
On March 11, 2020, COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), which reached its first peak, on July 19, 2020, with more than 14.3 million COVID-19 affected cases worldwide. On the same day, about 0.57 million COVID-19 cases were affected with coronavirus in the GCC regions (comprising Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates), thereby accounting for about 4.033% of the worldwide COVID-19 cases.
Due to the rise in the number of cases observed at the time, there was a dire need for the government to bring effective solutions to mitigate the further spread of COVID-19 in the GCC regions. Therefore, the government started taking adequate steps towards promoting the Medtech industry via the innovation of smart AI medical devices, in-vitro diagnostic kits, surgical masks, ventilators among others. Additionally, the launch of smart robots was also processed to curb the pandemic. For instance, the Ministry of Health in UAE had set up virtual hospitals, thereby introducing smart monitors in 2020. Also, the launch of GHAD (Unified Electronic Platform) in the year 2019 in Saudi Arabia had led to the development of an already existing medical device regulatory system, thereby easing out the process related to approval and accessibility to medical devices.
Through these steps, the cases in the GCC region came under control. As of October 11, 2021, the global number of coronavirus-affected cases was 237.38 million, while on the same day, the GCC countries had a total of 2.51 million cases affected with Covid-19, accounting for a total of 1.05% of the global COVID-19 cases.
Furthermore, one of the major factors witnessed during the time of the Covid 19 crisis was that globally all non-Covid-19 associated conditions had been temporarily stopped. All other elective surgical procedures were temporarily non-prioritized as a result of government decisions to focus only on COVID-affected patients. Therefore, to overcome the challenges mentioned above, the MedTech industry, in response to the pandemic has attained huge levels of synchronization in line with new guidelines imposed by the government. Such as, the PPE manufacturers, have increased the production, the commercial and clinical aspects have seen a drastic shift towards remote activities, digital health solutions, and machine learning options have been extracted for maximizing operations and care and the supply chains have been re-established to avoid any form of shortage. For improving the MedTech industry within the GCC region regarding the speedy delivery of medical devices, government bodies and regulators have improvised registration, procurement, and import processes and liberalized restrictions on medical devices including kits and PPEs. Certain devices have been recognized as the “National Security Devices” thereby helping to attain regional self-sufficiency during the situation of the ongoing pandemic.
Government initiatives for supporting the MedTech Industry in GCC
Various government initiatives taken by the GCC countries have a major impact on the current Medical Device industry in the unpredictable times of COVID-19. Some of them are as follows:
- Launching social infrastructure projects:
Due to the rise in the number of social infrastructure projects concerning healthcare and the rising focus on public health due to Covid-19, the GCC region has several growth opportunities in the MedTech industry. Public investment is the main driver associated with infrastructure funding that will improvise the medical device acceptance, adoption, and growth in the GCC region. For instance, Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 aims at the development of the healthcare sector via privatization.
- Introduction of smart monitors and AI-associated medical devices:
On January 28, 2020, in UAE, the Ministry of Health had started its work with the telecom operator Du, thereby setting the region’s first virtual hospital. The virtual hospitals had facilities for offering remote care to the patients on a virtual platform via smart monitors or AI devices. In the UAE, the government is continuously trying to leverage AI-associated medical device options for promoting an integrated experience and for a rise in patient outcomes.
- Adoption of wearable technologies among patients:
The use of wearable technologies and connected medical devices was also on the surge, thereby allowing patients for tracking and managing the already present conditions, enabling preventative techniques. The GCC region had also suffered huge demands for patient monitoring kits and ventilators.
- Providing accessibility to the COVID-19 combating devices:
There was a huge demand observed for sanitation and protection items comprising of quick shortages that affected various countries including GCC. The equipment consisted of sanitizers, gloves, and face masks. To supply the products following the demands of the population, the government had stopped exporting all forms of medical devices and products, including diagnostic devices and protective agents, thereby ensuring their availability during the pandemic situation.
- Ease in Government guidelines related to medical devices:
The recently introduced Medical Device Interim Regulations had created Saudi Arabia a regulated market for all kinds of medical devices and all manufacturers supplying a medical device requiring Saudi Food and Drug Market Authorization. In response to the outbreak of Covid-19, the SFDA had taken steps for easing importing restrictions, accelerating registration processes, and improving support for local factories and distribution of companies to ensure regulations for blocking the development or supply of medical devices that can protect lives.
To ensure, an adequate supply of medical devices and products required in the region, new Covid-19 regulatory interventions were implemented. These comprised of importing PPE, a local unauthorized factory for PPE, and emergency importing permission for IVD kits. In January 2020, the SFDA had further issued guidance on the requirements of medical devices quality management system for distributors, importers, and other authorized representatives. The organizations specializing in manufacturing and servicing medical devices have to be certified to the ISO 13485:2016, an international quality management system (QMS) standard for medical devices. Also in December, a guidance document was further released on Unique Device Identification (UDI) requirements for medical devices and in-vitro diagnostic kits, along with the implementation date per risk class that is linked to the finalizing and availability of Saudi Arabia UDI Database, SAUDI-D.
- Introduction to innovative electronic platforms:
In December 2019, Saudi Arabia had further launched a new unified electronic platform, called GHAD that had replaced the existing medical device systems for listing, registration, and establishment of licensing.
Recognizing that the innovative medical devices have a very important role in improving and facilitating both patient and physician quality of life, the SFDA had introduced an innovative medical device designation process for improving the review processes for innovative medical devices. Their guidance carries information about the manufacturers over the review processes.
Recent developments in the field of MedTech Industry post-COVID-19
COVID-19 was unexpected wrath that took the world by surprise. The revenues and sales observed for non-COVID-19 related services had seen a great blow. However, the demand and sales for PPEs and COVID 19 diagnostic kits have improved several folds, along with a rise in surge witnessed for both telemedicine and remote engagement services that tend to virtually connect the patients with doctors. The pandemic has increased the adoption of molecular diagnostic devices and equipment, focussing on the power of sequencing-based diagnostic testing to combat the spread of COVID-19 in the GCC region.
The key players within the GCC region market are focusing on improving their operational and business presence in the molecular diagnostic market via developing new and innovative technologies and strategic acquisitions of the emerging companies in the medical device industry. For instance:
- Saudi Arabia comprises several key players active in the diagnostic kits segment for COVID-19. The companies consist of Abbott Laboratories, Siemens Healthineers, F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd, Nihon Kohden Corporation, and Thermo Fisher Scientific among several others. On August 09, 2021, it was announced that Saudi Arabia’s research lab had been working to develop the COVID-19 test kit locally.
- The UAE’s health regulators are constantly increasing the adoption of new and smart medical devices to modernize their healthcare ecosystem. As per the Global Business News, in the year 2020, the country has been estimated to add around USD 182 billion to its economy by the year 2035 due to accelerated AI adoption, thereby contributing to its goal of becoming the leading medical device technology hub in the field of healthcare.
- On July 15, 2020, Dubai Health Authorities had launched eight “smart” robots to sterilize government-run hospitals and clinics.
- The UAE has also manufactured the Covid-19 laser testing technology by QuantLase Imaging Lab, thereby giving results in certain seconds, enabling faster mass screenings.
- Furthermore, the investment activity had observed a strong drive in the year 2020, along with the UAE-based Vezeeta and Okadoc had raised after a combination of USD 50 million in February. Also, Abu Dhabi’s tech ecosystem, known as Hub 71, thereby adding 15 newer companies to this program, thereby prioritizing start-ups that tend to support the private and public MedTech sector during the pandemic.
- In certain GCC countries, start-ups like Bahrain-based Doctri are working consistently for addressing problems by the pandemic, as they tend to give free consultations in collaboration with the WHO, along with launching services across the GCC region.
In GCC, the MedTech industry has been observing traction as the healthcare providers are increasingly fostering technology as the major focus of their business strategy. The medical device technology has been consequently utilized in various healthcare settings including clinical laboratories, research facilities, and critical care units in hospitals. The result of these innumerable efforts has further led to the development of pioneered solutions such as AI-based remote healthcare models for improvising care services and disease management, smart solutions for the geriatric population, and 3D printing for orthopedics, prosthetics, and other assistance.
GCC countries have made rapid advancements in recent years and turned into a fast Silicon Valley for the MedTech industry. The countries have turned into a hub for various digital start-ups, for instance, Altibbi, Vezeeta, HeyDoc, Medicus AI, Sihatech, Health at Hand, Nala, SaayaHealth, Yodawy, AlemHealth, Meddy, and Cura among others which have carved a niche with customized offerings for patients due to pandemic.
Various start-ups that offer their MedTech services to out-of-hospital settings have led to a drastic increase in investor interest from the regional and global funding houses. The domestic Private Equity/ Venture Capital activity in the GCC countries’ MedTech segment had observed investments above USD 6 million in 2019 and due to the initiation of Covid-19, the demand has multiplied exponentially.
Such developments have transformed the image of the GCC countries, focussing on the UAE, in the global map as an enabler in fighting against Covid-19.
Prospects for improving the MedTech industry Scenario in GCC
The impact of COVID-19 observed on the MedTech industry is still very fluid and comprises an array of challenges that are supposedly causing hurdles in meeting the demand of the patients and customers of medical devices. Various challenges observed by the MedTech sector in GCC countries were addressed by the government and MedTech companies using innovative strategies. Their strategies include optimization in supply chains, an increase in investments for upcoming MedTech options, and geographical diversification (increasing presence in several regions). Also establishing the local manufacturing companies within the GCC region has provided an additional economic incentive for the government. Currently, about 90% of medical devices are imported from other countries. The government and MedTech companies are trying to work in collaboration to increase the manufacturing capacity of the medical devices locally, thereby improving the overall scenario of the MedTech industry in the GCC countries.
Steps taken by key MedTech Players to combat COVID-19
The impact of COVID-19 on the MedTech industry in GCC was massive. The sharp decline in elective surgeries had adversely affected the medical device industry. However, various steps and strategies implemented by the GCC government had led to the overall improvement in the MedTech industry. There was a prominent difference that could be witnessed post-COVID due to the innumerable steps taken by the government as well as the medical device manufacturers for introducing innovative technologies that helped in combating the situation. Additionally, the government is increasingly spending on healthcare, thus turning the GCC countries into an interesting space for medical device manufacturers. Due to the stringent regulatory policies invented by the GCC countries, any form of deficits related to PPE kits and masks are being properly addressed. Therefore, it can be said that there is a ray of hope that is increasing with every passing day, considering the perseverance that is shown by the government of the GCC countries, thereby gradually leading to an advancement in the MedTech industry.
Source: DelveInsight – www.delveinsight.com