India is key focus of GE’s low-cost healthcare products

December 8th, 2009 - 11:35 am ICT by IANS  

By Arun Kumar
Chicago, Dec 8 (IANS) An ECG device that has the potential to reduce the cost of an ECG to less than that of a bottle of mineral water, a laptop ultrasound and a lullaby warmer for infants. These and many other innovations developed in India or made for India and other emerging markets were showcased by GE healthcare here.

Part of GE Healthcare’s “healthymagination” initiative designed to lower costs, finding better ways to see more inside the human body and help deliver better healthcare, the new products were on display at the just concluded annual show of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA 2009).

The key word is adaptation, says V Raja, President and CEO South Asia. “Unlike others who just import and distribute, we have traditionally been a company which is focused on importing as well as making products locally in the market.”

“In terms of technology, what we have developed in the western world is brought into India at almost simultaneous times as it gets launched providing access to the latest available technology.”

“This is supplemented by making products in the local market at affordable prices and technology without the bells and whistles by indigenising to the extent possible without compromising clinical outcomes,” Raja told IANS.

“Then you have to make the products that work in conditions in India with all the infrastructural bottlenecks that we have,” he said. “An ability to adapt to give customers what they need at lower cost and an ability to service them almost round the clock as also train them is probably our unique advantage.”

“That’s the essence of how we go about making products,” Raja said recounting how growing constantly over the last five six years, the Indian unit earns about $500 million in revenue, almost half of it in sales in the export market and half in India.”

One such product just launched in India is GE Healthcare’s new “MAC i” that brings cost of quality cardiac early detection down to Rs 9 - less than the price of a bottle of mineral water. The first MAC i unit was donated to HelpAge India to screen elderly people in rural areas.

Available to physicians for only Rs.25000 or half the cost of MAC 400, an earlier portable easy to use device that reduced cost of ECG systems to one third of similar quality imported ECG systems, the new device can take 100 prints on one charge.

Designed at the John F. Welch Technology Centre in Bangalore, MAC 400 was launched in early 2008 and is now successfully used in several countries around the globe.

Another new product unveiled at RSNA 2009 was an enhanced application suite for Discovery PET/CT 600 and new Discovery PET/CT 690 focusing on the whole body rather than just cardiac.

The system allows clinicians and researchers to align PET (Positron emission tomography) and CT (Computed tomography) gated images to compensate for movement in all regions of the body, most importantly those regions subject to respiration motion.

Just released commercially, the first unit of the new product was installed last week at the Institute of Liver and Billary studies, New Delhi. With the assembly unit already shifted from Japan to India, the breakthrough equipment is going to be manufactured in India.

Yet another new product is GE’s Lullaby Warmer, designed in Bangalore for use in developing nations. It helps reduce infant deaths from hypothermia and asphyxia by providing newborns with vital overhead heat and improves access to care through easy-to-use technology.

GE has also partnered with the Nobel-prize winning Grameen Bank of Bangladesh to create a sustainable rural health model that reduces maternal and infant mortality by more than 20 percent.

Neonatology expertise gained through working with GE partners in India - the NICE Foundation & Cradle, Bangalore - will support the future extension of Grameen’s rural programme to include much-needed newborn care, Raja said.

This is but a glimpse of things to come, he says. For GE plans to invest a whopping $6 billion worldwide to launch a 100+ inovations that lower cost, increase access and improve quality by 15 percent by 2015.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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