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Master plan aims to elevate SA’s medtech sector

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 14 May 2024
Trade, industry and competition minister Ebrahim Patel.
Trade, industry and competition minister Ebrahim Patel.

To better position South Africa’s prospects in the “booming” medical technology (medtech) sector, the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC) has unveiled a master plan for the industry.

The Africa and Middle East medtech sector is projected to grow to R29.6 billion by 2025, with indications showing it has created over 30 000 employment opportunities, to date.

Furthermore, the sector has been identified as a potentially important contributor to economic growth and employment, while enabling improvement in health provision for South Africans.

On Monday, the medtech master plan, which is spearheaded by the DTIC, was launched in partnership with industry, government and labour at the Industrial Development Corporation in Johannesburg.

Signatories of the master plan include the DTIC, national Department of Health, South African Medical Technology Industry Association (SAMED), CSIR and Medical Device Manufacturers of South Africa.

The master plan has been in the pipeline since 2021.

Mastering medtech

According to the department, the master plan aims to provide guidance for the public and private sectors to dedicate resources and time in strengthening the sector, in order to place it on a growth trajectory.

One of the objectives is to grow a competitive medtech industry over the next three years, with focus on the development of small and medium enterprises that will eventually supply domestic and international markets.

The plan’s 2035 vision is for a digitalised and integrated ecosystem that supports and encourages the development, growth and competitiveness of local medical technology value chains to produce reliable, safe, quality and affordable medtech for domestic and export markets.

It is also intended to generate employment and development of technical skills by creating 1 000 new jobs over the next three years.

Speaking to public broadcaster the SABC, DTIC minister Ebrahim Patel explained that South Africa currently imports more than R26 billion worth of medical tech products. “Some of these we now want to localise and produce here.

“We want to be able to export to global markets – the European Union and United Kingdom – as well as other African countries, particularly through the African Continental Free Trade Area.

“South Africa has a history of innovation; a South African was the co-discoverer of the CT scan, for example. There are many other products of innovation.

“This [plan] brings together industry regulator SAHPRA and the national Department of Health, which will work together on how to get procurement from South African producers. The private sector, private hospitals and pharmacies will be partners to localise more products here in South Africa, with the purpose being job creation.”

Industry guide

According to SAMED, the master plan seeks to guide the public and private sectors to dedicate resources and time to strengthening the sector and place it on a growth trajectory.

It also unites South African health system stakeholders to give medical technology greater prominence in the economy and to benefit South African and African patients.

SAMED notes the bulk of the assembled medtech products and materials necessary for the limited and mainly small-scale local manufacturing are imported, presenting a significant portion of SA’s trade deficit.

The COVID-19 pandemic illustrated the pitfalls of SA’s excessive reliance on imports, the inadequate supply of essential products, and the urgent need to optimise the economic and health system advantages of building a stronger local medtech industry.

“The recognition of medtech as a sector to be spotlighted through a comprehensive national master plan underscores intentions to dramatically grow the medtech industry, have more locally produced and competitively priced products being used in patient care, and other associated economic benefits and contributions to South African socio-economic and health-related goals and outputs.

“South Africa is one of the largest medtech markets across Africa and the Middle East, with the medtech master plan aiming to improve this position and the industry’s competitiveness and return on investment even further.”

The launch focused on priority deliverables, such as the identification of medtech that is suited for rapid localisation, an Africa growth strategy that will unlock volumes and export opportunities and progress healthcare delivery across Africa, and facilitate the South African medtech industry’s long-term sustainability.

“The launch of the medtech master plan is a momentous occasion for our sector and the country. SAMED and other medtech representative associations appreciate government’s leadership on this valuable new pro-industry partnership programme,” says SAMED chairperson Peter Mehlape.

“The master plan is a real partnership. The minister used the analogy of another much-loved South African tradition – bring-and-braai – to invite our industry, regulators, funders and other role-players to bring the ingredients within their area of expertise and a collaborative approach to ensure the success of this social pact operating at the industry level.”

Mehlape believes the plan will unite commitments under a joint cause and strengthen communication channels and relationships to act speedily to realise opportunities and resolve challenges related to increasing local production and scale up at competitive prices and for real impact.

“On behalf of the SAMED leadership and members, and the medical devices and technologies sector, let’s continue to infuse the energy and commitments to see transformation and localisation take route and flourish.”

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