Medical technology sector and SAMED at the centre of quality care for patients and successful NHI: Director-General of Health addresses industry association at annual member meeting

“I must emphasise this, the quality of care cannot happen without medical technology… UHC through National Health Insurance Fund cannot be achieved without the South African Medical Technology Industry Association and its members equipping the country’s health system with appropriate equipment,” said Dr Sandile Buthelezi, Director-General at the National Department of Health (NDoH).

Dr Buthelezi delivered the keynote address at SAMED’s annual general meeting in Sandton on Thursday 18 May.

UHC (universal health coverage) is defined by the World Health Organization as a system in which “all people have access to the full range of quality health services they need, when and where they need them, without financial hardship”.

National health insurance (NHI) is South Africa’s chosen vehicle designed to achieve the UHC ideals. Dr Buthelezi’s comments come on the back of a major milestone with the NHI Bill being approved by Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Health earlier this month.

“SAMED has a crucial role to play in the implementation of NHI,” he added.

SAMED Chairperson Peter Mehlape welcomed the DG’s acknowledgement of the current and future role of the association and its members in providing the health system with leadership, expertise and effective, safe and quality medtech products.

“It is heartening to have our key stakeholder – the health department – acknowledge the contributions to healthcare by SAMED and the medtech industry. We have worked diligently for almost four decades to organise, grow and support the local medtech sector. Our members are ethical, experienced and capable industry leaders. We believe this knowledge is crucial to the shaping and delivery of an NHI that is ethical, sustainable and meets the needs of South Africans,” Mehlape said.

 Investment in the local medtech industry can drive economic growth

“With [SAMED], we believe that South Africa’s home-grown manufacturing of medical technology should be actively promoted and stepped up. A strong local medtech manufacturing sector is good for our economy,” said Dr Buthelezi.

Currently, South Africa depends on other countries, particularly in the global north, for a staggering 90% of the medical technology products used within its borders. But investing in local manufacturing can reduce this dependence, save the country money and help tackle the unemployment crisis.

“COVID taught us we cannot rely on imported products because we will always be at the back of the queue. We need government to invest in the local medtech industry, including through the Industrial Development Corporation, and make us competitive,” the DG said.

Mehlape agreed: “COVID-19 showed how suddenly, and drastically, international supply chains can be broken. Many of our members found themselves hostage to sky-rocketing logistics costs which impacted their business.”

But Dr Buthelezi acknowledged that, in order to make a substantial shift away from importation to local production, the government has a responsibility to help level the playing field. He added that, currently, international manufacturers are providing products at prices that the local industry finds hard to match.

Dr Buthelezi pointed to Cabinet’s approval of the Draft Procurement Bill before Parliament last week which aims to support local industry with preferential procurement, particularly for small and medium enterprises.

“The wheels are already in motion and there have been incredibly encouraging signals of a surge in political will to grow the local medtech industry,” said Mehlape. “A promising and exciting example of this is the effort that the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC) is investing in the development of the Health Products Master Plan.”

A key element of this plan is the identification of imported medical products that can be manufactured locally instead so that home-grown products become the country’s first choice. Another promising aim of this plan is the focus on building local production capacity and skills so that the industry is fully equipped to support South Africa’s medtech needs.

“Not only has medtech advanced up the industrial development priority list, but the DTIC has shown willingness to take advice from the industry in developing the plan. SAMED welcomes this collaboration whole-heartedly,” said Mehlape.

Dr Buthelezi noted that this investment will have knock on benefits for the country.

“By manufacturing and buying locally, we can grow and keep expertise and skills within South Africa. A more competitive local manufacturing capacity can enhance our trade and collaborations within the African Union and strengthen local and African health systems to bring the continent closer to universal health coverage,” he said.

 Job creation, transformation and leadership

Mehlape said that the SAMED AGM was “an opportunity for us to take stock and look back at what we have achieved in the last year.”

It is not only regarding the NHI where SAMED’s values and programmes are aligned with the interests of the country’s most important health bodies – such as the NDoH and the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority – and, by extension, advancing South Africa as a whole.

For example, SAMED is commitment to ethical marketing and business practices – enforced through the Medical Device Code, to which all SAMED members are signatories.

SAMED is also dedicated to driving job creation for youth – a project that is “close to my heart”, according to Mehlape.

“This year, through our partnership with Youth Employment Service, 37 participating SAMED members created almost 800 jobs, putting R43 million into local economies through youth salaries. In return, 22 companies have achieved a level up in their B-BBEE scorecard,” he said.

Additionally, the association’s focus on real and sustainable transformation through women empowerment is another important initiative underlying SAMED’s instrumental role in creating positive change for its members and beyond.

“We are passionate about Women in Medtech, a novel SAMED initiative which strives to highlight the role of women in medtech and how industry and society can work collectively to provide opportunities to women,” says Tanya Vogt, the Executive Officer of SAMED. “Through inspirational case studies and events dedicated to advancing women in medtech, we recognise, support, and celebrate female leadership and service in the medtech sector. This is set to further evolve into a Women Empowerment Index which will allow us to set goals and track our industry’s progress towards creating future female leadership,” said Vogt.

These initiatives have positioned SAMED as an indispensable stakeholder when it comes to health and development in South Africa.

“We have elevated the perception and role of SAMED. I remember SAMED as an entity with an introverted and shy character. Today, we are a bold, assertive and trusted leader – paving the way for progress and growth in the South African and continental medtech sector,” said Mehlape.

About SAMED: The South African Medical Technology Industry Association (SAMED) is the voice of the South African medical technology industry. The association was formed in 1985 and aims to provide members with a collective, objective and credible platform to engage with stakeholders. SAMED’s members local and international medtech organisations ranging from SMMEs to large corporations, manufacturers and distributors.

Media contacts for further information or to set up interviews: Meropa Communications, Leigh-Ann Carey, | 0730551015 and Reshma Patel, | 0790341358