Eighteen months ago we published a blog that referred to the Western Cape region of South Africa as “a hotbed of medical device development.” We described the activities of two biomedical engineering research groups at the Universities of Cape Town and Stellenbosch as well as the innovative products manufactured by local companies. Finally, we finished off with the comment: “On the southern tip of the African continent is a thriving medical device industry that is making a vital contribution to the care of patients both locally and internationally.”
In the past ten days there have been two important initiatives demonstrating how two government agencies — one South African and the other Dutch — are taking steps to assist medical device companies succeed in a competitive market place. Alan Winde, Minister of Economic Development in the Western Cape, visited three companies: CapeRay; DISA Vascular, a manufacturer of coronary stents and balloon catheters; and Vision Biotech, a manufacturer of diagnostic tests for Malaria, TB and HIV. Speaking during the visit, he said: “South Africa’s medical device industry was worth R11.4b ($1.3b) in 2011 and is calculated to increase to R16.4b ($1.8b) by 2016. Today I visited cutting edge medical device factories producing world-class medical technology.”
Minister Winde also spoke about the possible development of the Cape Health Technology Park, a key infrastructure project that will be a joint venture between the Western Cape government, the national Department of Science and Technology, academia and business. The plan is to build a world-class facility where medical device and pharmaceutical companies, clinical trial facilities and academic research institutes can be strategically located on a single campus.
Earlier this week the Foreign Affairs Ministry of the Netherlands hosted a workshop in Cape Town that focused on the export value chain for medical devices. Arranged by the Centre for the Promotion of Imports from Developing Countries — known by its Dutch acronym CBI — the workshop attracted venture capitalists, representatives from academia and local manufacturers. One of the facilitators was Professor Tania Douglas, Director of the MRC/UCT Medical Imaging Research Unit who also serves on the board of CapeRay.
Sales of medical devices in Europe are currently €100 billion per annum, of which imported products account for almost 20%. There are thus significant opportunities for companies in developing countries like South Africa and we are fortunate that our government partners have the foresight to create programmes for us to compete successfully.