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Prospect of Healthy Profits Sees Medical Brands Target Cambodia

With its fast-rising disposable income levels and new openness to overseas suppliers, coupled with its low level of healthcare, Cambodia has become a priority market for medically minded businesses throughout Asia and beyond.

Photo: Handy hospital aids: The Sri Trang glove range.
Handy hospital aids: The Sri Trang glove range.
Photo: Handy hospital aids: The Sri Trang glove range.
Handy hospital aids: The Sri Trang glove range.

Cambodia's economy is one of the fastest developing in Southeast Asia, with its GDP expected to grow by 7% this year. As incomes and service expectations rise, however, the nation's under-resourced domestic healthcare sector is struggling to cope with the rising demand for procedures, treatments and medicines. As an indication of the scale of the problem, between 24-30% of Cambodian visitors to Vietnam and Thailand make the trip for medical and / or aesthetic treatments, according to a recent report in the Phnom Penh Post.

It was against this backdrop that the recent Cambodia Phar-Med Expo was held in Phnom Penh, the national capital. Endorsed by the country's Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of Health, the event is now a well-established showcase for the pharmaceutical, medical and laboratory sectors. This year, it was co-located with Beauty Connect Cambodia, adding a number of wellness and cosmetic brands into its expected mix. Although many of the overseas exhibitors attending the event were either new to Cambodia or had limited experience of the country, all seemed to see getting a foothold in its fast-evolving market as a key part of their overall ASEAN strategy.

As with many latterly developing nations, Cambodia is set to skip several technological phases and directly implement the latest innovations, most notably smart technology. One exhibitor in the vanguard of this particular development was Rhode Island-headquartered Hanna Instruments, a specialist manufacturer of electro-analytical systems. At present, the company produces 3,000 products from its facilities in the US, Italy, Romania and Mauritius, while maintaining a regional head office in Vietnam.

This time around, it was showcasing its Edge Blu pH meter and Halo pH probe, said to be the first products of their kind to integrate Bluetooth connectivity. Outlining their particular benefits, Sales Executive Nguyen Huynh Minh Hien said: "Both products can connect straight to a smartphone or tablet, so they can be used anywhere.

"They are also highly energy-efficient, something that is increasingly important to hospitals, clinics and universities as they look to save on costs. We've only recently released them on a global basis and we already have a number of prospective customers in Cambodia."

Another company looking to introduce intelligent medical technology to the country was China-based Guangzhou MeCan Medical. A specialist manufacturer of diagnostic, surgical and laboratory equipment, it was looking to turn the spotlight onto the latest addition to its range – a lightweight (185g) Wireless Ultrasound Probe.

Confident of its potential appeal to local buyers, Overseas Sales Manager Rose Chen said: "Customers are very open to this kind of smart device – it's hand-held, has a touch-sensitive screen and can be used to quickly assess vascular punctures by hospital labs and clinics.

"This is our first time in Cambodia and we're here as part of the probe's global launch. Last week, we were in Bangkok, next week we are in Nigeria and after that we are heading to the Philippines."

Despite the prominence of the digital diagnostic brigade, there was no shortage of exhibitors offering more conventional laboratory equipment, with the Seoul-headquartered Daihan Scientific Group just one of many such businesses attending the Phnom Penh event. Introducing the company, International Sales Executive Alex Jong said: "This is the first time we have participated in an event in Cambodia and we're here hoping to meet new customers and prospective distributors for our range of autoclaves, incubators, sterilisers and glass labware.

"Across Asia, we are extending our portfolio of products into the life sciences, pharmaceutical and medical sectors. Cambodia, however, is a new market for us, so part of our reason for being here is to learn about its market requirements and its expected price points."

Photo: Hanna Instruments’ Halo pH probe.
Hanna Instruments' Halo pH probe.
Photo: Hanna Instruments’ Halo pH probe.
Hanna Instruments' Halo pH probe.
Photo: Surgical suction from Doctor’s Friend.
Surgical suction from Doctor's Friend.
Photo: Surgical suction from Doctor’s Friend.
Surgical suction from Doctor's Friend.

Also looking to gauge local interest was Doctor's Friend Medical Instruments, a Taichung City-based manufacturer of suction units and other hospital equipment. Outlining the company's approach to entering this new market, Sales Executive Angela Lin said: "In general, Taiwan has a good reputation for high-quality medical equipment, while we have 40 years of expertise in researching, designing and manufacturing our proprietary product ranges.

"As this is the first time we have exhibited in Cambodia, we are focusing on just three of our units, which, between them, range from our most compact model to one of our more heavy-duty systems. We hope this will help buyers become familiar with the high-vacuum power and stable quality that characterises our product range."

No medical expo would be complete without a coterie of exhibitors offering their own take on the kind of low-tech items that are essential for the smooth and efficient running of any healthcare institution – and the Cambodia Phar-Med Expo was no exception. Among the many doing the honours in this particular regard was Sri Trang Gloves. Founded in 1989 and based in the southern Thai city of Songkhla, the company is one of the world's leading suppliers of surgical gloves, serving clients in 120 countries and maintaining offices in China, Vietnam and the US.

Outlining the scale of the company's operation, Assistant Sales Manager Supatcha Arpauthaipong said: "As well as investing extensively in R&D, we produce about 21 billion pairs of latex powdered, latex powder-free and nitrile powder-free gloves every year.

"Although we already have a small number of clients in Cambodia, we are keen to make additional contacts here as it's a market that's developing very rapidly. As well as our branded products, we are also happy to work on an OEM basis, producing customised packaging using the preferred language and branding of any particular client. We have found this option to be particularly popular in Southeast Asia."

More essentials were on offer from Tokyo's Top Corporation. Starting life as a glass syringe manufacturer in 1940, the company now produces a wide range of medical devices, including catheters, endoscopic needles and angiographic tubes.

Outlining its strategy for entering this new market, Yuki Hanawa, the company's Executive Manager for International Sales and Marketing, said: "As with most of the other exhibitors, Cambodia is something of a new prospect for us. At the same time, many of the local buyers here have comparatively little experience when it comes to sourcing from abroad.

"We do, however, have considerable expertise when it comes to exporting as we have been servicing clients throughout Southeast Asia since the 1990s. This has seen us establish a factory in Malaysia and open a sales office in Singapore. For us, the key has been to find reliable distribution partners in every market we enter – and that is what we are hoping to do here."

A company with a similarly impressive record when it came to export success was Taiwan Stanch, a Taichung City-based manufacturer of home-care products and pain remedies. Clearly looking to introduce Cambodian buyers to its whole portfolio, its stand had on offer cold and hot gel packs, activated patches and analgesic lotions for muscular injuries and pain relief, as well as several medical consumables, including bronchial percussors and insulin cooling bags.

Outlining the thinking behind the company's 4,400km round-trip to the Cambodian capital, Business Development Manager Emma Lai said: "At present, our products are sold in 120 countries, primarily via pharmacies, so we are looking for a Cambodian distributor that can help us replicate that across the whole country.

"While we've previously attended many of the big pharma shows – Medical Fair Asia, Medica and ISPO – this is our first time at a Cambodian event. Although the first day was disappointingly slow, it's now starting to pick up."

Moving into the wellness space, one of the key exhibitors here was LifePlus Vistas, a health and skincare supplement manufacturer based in the central Thai province of Samut Prakan. It had come to Cambodia with one clear priority – promoting Amazy, its proprietary new weight-loss supplement that blends cactus extracts with powdered Spanish mushrooms.

Outlining both the product's USP and the company's sales strategy, Brand Manager Ployphapassorn Ittakarn said: "We only launched Amazy two weeks ago and we are keen to introduce it to Cambodia as health supplements are really starting to take off here. We particularly want to identify potential local distribution partners.

"Although Cambodia is a new market for us, we are quite well-established in a number of Southeast Asian markets. That's why we have ensured that Almazy is halal certified – that's essential for success in any country with a high percentage of Muslim consumers."

Photo: Diagnostic dispensing courtesy of the Top Corporation.
Diagnostic dispensing courtesy of the Top Corporation.
Photo: Diagnostic dispensing courtesy of the Top Corporation.
Diagnostic dispensing courtesy of the Top Corporation.
Photo: Taiwan Stanch’s cold-warm compresses.
Taiwan Stanch's cold-warm compresses.
Photo: Taiwan Stanch’s cold-warm compresses.
Taiwan Stanch's cold-warm compresses.

The 2019 Cambodia Phar-Med Expo took place from 17-18 September at The Great Duke Hotel in Phnom Penh.

Geoff de Freitas, Special Correspondent, Phnom Penh

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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