Dealing a blow to India’s self-reliance endeavours in the healthcare segment, medtech and medical devices imports from China have risen up to 75%, says a report. At the same, the overall increase in imports of medtech equipment from all nations is a mere 7%.
China became the biggest exporter of medical devices to India, overtaking the US and Germany, during 2020-21, according to a Times of India report, which also said Chinese imports have surged despite worsening relations with the neighbour and thrust on ‘Make in India’ policy.
Imports are mostly in critical items such as oximeters, diagnostic instruments, digital thermometers and chemical reagents which were needed during the pandemic as scaling up in quick time was next to impossible, industry experts said.
Association of Indian Medical Device Industry (AiMeD) forum coordinator Rajiv Nath is quoted in the Times of India as saying that the government should protect investments in medical devices industry instead of reducing duty on Covid-critical devices to zero temporarily, which has led to a influx of imports from China from May 2020.
If imports harm the domestic industry, then corrective policies by incentivising homegrown players are needed, he said, adding that the 75% surge in Chinese imports should be a matter of concern to policymakers as we are striving for ‘Atma Nirbhar.
This year’s import bill at nearly Rs 45,000 crore, the report said.
Vishwaprasad Alva, MD of critical care and ICU equipment manufacturer Skanray Technologies, is quoted as saying that medtech devices imports from China surged during Covid, adding that medtech can’t be ‘Atma Nirbhar’ in a few months. There was no way to manage critical shortages, except for PPE kits, masks & sanitisers, he said.
According to the report, customs did not benefit from zero duty as there was maximum retail price (MRP) printed on devices and there was profiteering due to the huge mark-ups.
Devices such as ventilators, besides masks & PPE kits, also saw solid growth, the report said.
Industry observers are quoted as saying that domestic players need support from the private sector and the government to develop expertise in neonatal & child care, OT & surgical, ICU, radiology & scanning and cardiac care.
Max Ventilators founder & CEO Ashok Patel is quoted as saying that the Centre’s purchases were limited to respiratory care and oxygen delivery equipment due to the pandemic and, therefore, there has not been much of a boost to build capacity/capability in other segments.
Local vendors developed several key components as supply from the US and Europe was disrupted, he said, adding that for circuit boards, importers shifted to China distributors who promised assured delivery,” he added.