Accessible, affordable and quality medical technologies are still not widely available in emerging economies where traditionally it has been so that medical technology products have always been imported from developed countries. But the way most companies from developed countries treat emerging markets has been very paternalistic. They are usually making a certain type of product(s) for both domestic and all international markets.
Most businesses from developed markets persisted in believing that “Finnish (swap with another developed country) design and engineering” was in itself enough to get the ball rolling and get branded as a great product. And almost in every case, these solutions are expensive because they are built by the best with the best of everything. Also, if one is designing, engineering and working on products largely sold in developed countries, then those solutions might not work in places with very different needs and infrastructure levels. There is obviously a market for some of these expensive solutions where there are no replaceable alternatives but especially in the healthcare and medical technology sector, startups and local businesses in emerging markets are beginning to challenge the status quo.
But now there are also efforts from innovation agencies, investors, entrepreneurs and premier universities from some of the leading developed countries to start co-creating such quality, accessible and affordable solutions.
I want to highlight 5 such programs that are helping make a difference and showing the way for others to follow in creating these frugal innovations.
The Stanford India Biodesign program was launched to identify the need for affordable medical solutions in 2007. The concept was so that “the fellows” will spend months immersed in the interdisciplinary environment of Stanford Bio-X, learning the Biodesign process of researching clinical needs and prototyping a medical devices. Past fellows from the program have successfully launched 36 companies focused on developing devices for unmet medical needs. This program co-operation with India was ended in 2015 and in it’s place the International School For Biodesign was launched in New Delhi.
Started in 2015, the aim of School of International Biodesign is to train the next generation of medical technology innovators and create an ecosystem of frugal medical innovations. Outside of India, they are currently partnering with Stanford University, Cambridge University, Queensland University of Technology, Tottori University and Japan Federation of Medical Devices Associations to help them get to their goal. They do this via fellowships to co-create frugal medical technologies.
CAMTech’s goal is to accelerate affordable medical technology innovation to improve health outcomes in Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs). They have been using hackathons as a way to generate ideas and solutions. In 2016 they launched the CAMTech Online Innovation Platform to address a critical gap in the medtech ecosystem by providing expertise, resources and targeted support to global health innovators. The online platform gives members access to Experts, Investors, Clinical Opportunities, Partners, Resources and Innovators. CAMTech has focussed activities so far in India and Uganda.
TechEmerge bills itself as a first of its kind matchmaking program for proven technology companies around the world that are looking to grow their business in emerging markets. The inaugural program in 2015-2016 connected innovators globally to healthcare providers in India to accomplish the dual goals of improving healthcare delivery and patient outcomes. The program is operated by IFC (a member of the World Bank Group) with funding also coming from the Finnish Ministry of Employment and the Economy (MEE) and the Israeli Ministry of Economy and Industry. TechEmerge is run in partnership with Health 2.0
The India-Israel Med4Dev Hackathon is putting together innovators, entrepreneurs, healthcare professionals, designers, engineers, programmers and business professionals over a three day period in up to four locations (Tel Aviv, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Mumbai) in order to develop innovative ideas and prototype solutions (hardware and software) to address healthcare challenges of low and lower-middle income communities in India. The program will be having it’s main activities in July 2016.
As you can see most of the affordable medical technology innovations are being piloted in India with CAMTech also focusing on Uganda. The reason I believe is:
There is a lot of enthusiasm at the government level
There seems to be good professional and personal connections between individuals and organisations that are organising these programs
Last but not least, India is big and diverse enough with skilled engineeers/doctors/innovators as well as huge number of people with un-met medical needs to have it as a lead market to test these affordable medical solutions.