Southern promise for Irish medtech firms
In the 25 years since apartheid ended, South Africa has undergone extraordinary economic and social transformations. Creating an equal society has been challenging, with the healthcare system, in particular, facing multiple issues. These include improving maternal and child health; managing major non-communicable and infectious diseases, such as HIV and tuberculosis; overuse of healthcare and excessive medical insurance claims; and dealing with the consequences of violence and injury, among others.
In the medtech space, more than 93pc of medical devices and solutions in South Africa are imported, creating opportunities for Irish companies to introduce high-end, cost-competitive technologies to meet the requirements of both public and private health users.
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It was for these reasons that South Africa became a target market for Galway-based Aerogen, which manufactures high-performance aerosol drug delivery systems for use in hospitals. Aerogen's market-leading systems deliver aerosol drugs quicker and more efficiently due to their patented vibrating mesh technology, which leads to optimal drug droplet sizes. This enables more effective delivery of medication, creating less waste.
David Hammond, Aerogen's general manager for the Middle East and Africa, said: "We looked at South Africa and saw that there was a massive opportunity for us.
"We have an exclusive distribution partner and we are starting to get very active in the market. The uptake is good so far, and it is now about how we become standard-of-care in ICUs, high-dependency and emergency departments, and hospital wards throughout South Africa. That journey is only really now starting."
Similar to Aerogen, Dublin-based medical review company MedRev identified opportunities for its services in the South African market.
MedRev's network of international specialists review claims and provide recommendations as to the medical necessity of procedures.
This helps insurers to improve care quality, and to reduce overuse and over-claims costs in the private medical insurance space.
MedRev's founding partner Nir Kaminer explained: "One of the biggest problems for healthcare providers and insurers is that of unnecessary procedures. Many cases are not medically necessary and do not always deliver the best healthcare outcome for patients. Any new company that starts working with us wants
to assess our capabilities and the value of our process, so we always start with a pilot project in a new market. We currently have two pilots under way in South Africa, so the response has been very positive."
Nutritics entered the South African market after a spike in website traffic indicated growing interest in the firm's software for digital food information management systems and nutrition.
The Nutritics software provides dietary analysis, meal planning, recipe analysis, nutrition labelling and menu management for health professionals, food service providers, food manufacturers and elite sports teams in more than 170 countries, including South Africa.
The Nutritics team has partnered with a registered dietitian and nutritional thought leader, Leigh-Ann Silber, to drive business development in-market. CEO Damian O'Kelly said: "We had a soft launch last September at a dietitians' conference and there was a great reaction. Everyone was really impressed because it's something that has not been used much in dietetics there [South Africa]."
Take-up by dietitians, and recent deals with an elite-level sports club and celebrity chef, reflect the range of local opportunities for Nutritics.
O'Kelly said: "There are extremes of wealth and poverty in South Africa and also a growing middle class, so our potential clients are quite a broad spectrum. But by going through the dietitians, we are essentially targeting all the people and companies that they work with, which covers healthcare, food, sport and more."
This year continues to offer promise for Irish companies like Aerogen, MedRev, Nutritics, and other Enterprise Ireland-backed firms in South Africa. While these companies understand that the business development and uptake process is challenging, they have shown commitment and ongoing investment in making partnerships and business successful. It is rewarding to work with them and be part of the process that helps them to gain traction in Africa.
Ureshnie Govender is a senior market adviser in life sciences and agritech for Enterprise Ireland in South Africa
Sunday Indo Business