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Mainland Healthcare Companies Now Focusing on Domestic Market

Having long targeted the US and European markets, China's healthcare-manufacturing sector has now woken up to the huge surge in demand in its home country, a development set to transform the business models of many companies.

Photo: With 220 million Chinese residents set to be 65 or over by 2020, elderly care is now big business. (Shutterstock.com)
With 220 million Chinese residents set to be 65 or over by 2020, elderly care is now big business.
Photo: With 220 million Chinese residents set to be 65 or over by 2020, elderly care is now big business. (Shutterstock.com)
With 220 million Chinese residents set to be 65 or over by 2020, elderly care is now big business.

According to the World Bank, China has 138 million citizens aged 65 and over, representing about 10% of its population. By 2020, it is estimated that the corresponding figure will be 220 million. In the face of such rapid growth, together with the accompanying surge in demand across the healthcare and nursing-homes sectors, it is no wonder that the China Disabled Elderly Rehabilitation Nursing & Healthcare Products Exhibition has become one of the mainland's most high-profile trade events.

With China's elderly-care sector still at a relatively early stage in its development, many of the domestic brands attending the event had, hitherto, been focusing on overseas markets. Intco Medical, for instance, a Jiangsu-based manufacturer of wheelchairs, hotpads and medical gloves, had been solely export-oriented until comparatively recently.

Outlining the company's sales strategy, Sales Representative Ivy Wang said: "Europe and the US have long been our primary markets, although we have sold into some of the more mature Asian markets, notably Japan. Our move into the mainland is still something new to us, despite the fact that we have been in business for 15 years."

This year, the company was showcasing its extended wheelchair range, with a particular focus on its Y207 model. Built to CE and FDA [European and US safety standards] certification levels, the foldable Y207 comes with a lightweight tubular design and a slimmed-down battery.

Similarly confident that the local wheelchair market is set to grow was Nanjing-based Yuanlang Electronic Technology Development. The company is one of the market leaders in the sector and is somewhat unusual in that it manufactures both motors and controllers, while most powered wheelchair companies buy in controllers from third parties.

Acknowledging that her company, too, had primarily targeted the export markets, Sales Representative Amy Rhiannon said: "We are CE-certified and have our own IP. While, to date, we have mainly sold our joysticks and controllers overseas, our domestic sales have been growing over the past two years."

This year, the company was particularly keen to promote its new YL-K3 controller. This integrates SIM-card technology, allowing wheelchair users to call a family member or summon medical help. The controller can also be linked to the dingweilunyi smartphone app, which allows the location of the wheelchair to be determined remotely.

Indeed, one of the fastest-growing sectors in the overall healthcare market is app-controlled monitoring systems, with a substantial number of companies at the Shanghai event debuting such devices. Keen to take a lead here was Proton Technology, a Hangzhou-based supplier of ECG monitors.

Earlier this year, the company launched the Care Patch. Once attached to a baby by an adhesive strip, the Patch continuously monitors the infant's temperature for up to 40 hours. Parents get the data in real time via an app and are alerted if the baby's temperature exceeds certain parameters.

Maintaining that sales to date have been brisk, Sales Manager Eva Zhu said: "We sold 10,000 in our first month and it is still really early days. At the moment, we are also only selling in Hangzhou and Shanghai."

While most companies at the event were intent on introducing overseas-tested products to the mainland market, Changzhou-based Pulse Health Technology was keen to buck the trend. Indeed, it has high hopes that its Jinmu Pulse Diagnosis System could prove to be a breakthrough product on an international basis.

Within two minutes of a patient placing their finger inside the Jinmu monitoring device, an update as to their general health condition is transmitted to a dedicated app on their phone. Using traditional Chinese medicine diagnostic principles, if used regularly it can flag any bodily change and recommend ways to improve overall health.

Photo: Proton Technology’s Care Patch.
Proton Technology's Care Patch.
Photo: Proton Technology’s Care Patch.
Proton Technology's Care Patch.
Photo: Powered wheelchair control from Yuanlang.
Powered wheelchair control from Yuanlang.
Photo: Powered wheelchair control from Yuanlang.
Powered wheelchair control from Yuanlang.

Explaining the product's route to market, Allan Hua, Pulse's Marketing Director, said: "The device was created by a team of Taiwanese Americans, all of whom had previously worked for GE in New York. It utilises unique technology, developed through research that has only recently been made public.

"It has been available in China since May and an English-language version, developed in partnership with a Hong Kong distributor, should be on sale very soon. At present, we are targeting both individual patients and physical therapy centres."

While such high-tech items were certainly eye-catching, many buyers at the event were more intent on sourcing products that offered solutions to some of the more mundane problems facing healthcare facilities, such as the need to keep germs to an absolute minimum. While robust cleaning and hygiene regimes can certainly reduce any risk, several companies at the event were offering spray-on treatments said to significantly reduce the likelihood of any contamination.

One such exhibitor was Beijing-based AnbaTec Biotechnology, which was in Shanghai to promote its range of Anbage spray-on coatings. Having bought the patent from a Berlin-based academic, the company said the product was guaranteed to keep surfaces antiseptic.

Clearly convinced it has a winner on its hands, Company Executive Kathy Lin said: "We believe the product has truly huge potential and could revolutionise the antimicrobial industry. In our tests, it was shown to kill off 99.99% of all viruses and bacteria within 10 minutes of first being applied."

One of the few foreign companies in attendance at the event was Finnish door manufacturer Muovilami, in China to promote its Lami Door range. Made from polyurethane, the company's doors all come with seamless glass-fibre surfaces, making it easy to wipe them clean of mould and easily treatable, ensuring that any bacteria that comes into contact with them will not survive for more than 15 minutes.

Assessing his company's prospects in China, General Manager Jouni Heikintalo said: "While there is a huge potential market here for us, cost is an issue. German steel doors – which are somewhat inferior – cost about RMB5,000, while our range starts at RMB7,000. We do, however, offer a 25-year guarantee. In truth, hospitals actually only require about 10-15% of their doors to be of this standard, typically in areas where cleanliness is paramount, such as operating theatres."

As well as bacteria-free surfaces, hospitals, care facilities and dental surgeries also require sterile instruments, with ultrasound cleaning machines typically relied on to deliver these. It was this market that Shenzhen-based Skymen was hoping to woo with its SL-103 system.

Introducing this new addition to the company's range, Sales Manager Vino Hon said: "Usually such machines only operate at one frequency. Our product, however, offers three different frequencies, allowing users to adjust the settings to perfectly match their requirements.

"Typically, the 40kHz mode is used for metal surgical instruments, such as scissors, while the 80kHz setting is better suited to optical instruments. The 120kHz mode, meanwhile, is reserved for certain specific categories of optical equipment. It is also worth bearing in mind that, although the system operates at a high frequency, it still has a relatively low level of power usage."

As in pretty much every country with an aging population, demand for mobility scooters in China has surged in recent years. One of the most established companies in this particular sector is Zhejiang-based Taizhou Chunlai Electrical, which has been manufacturing such vehicles for 19 years. Although the company was initially solely focused on mass-market scooter production, it has gradually moved more and more into the mobility sector.

This year, it was promoting its new CL-06Z-24 model, which has a range of up to 65km on a single charge, and a top speed of 15km/h. It also comes with a swing-out seat for ease of access.

Commenting on the company's recent change of strategy, Sales Manager Amy Xiang said: "We've been primarily selling into the European market over the past three years, particularly Switzerland, Greece, Romania and Poland. Now, though, we are focusing much more on China, as the market seems to be really taking off."

Photo: Lami Doors: Guaranteed to kill all bacteria within 15 minutes or your money back.
Lami Doors: Guaranteed to kill all bacteria within 15 minutes or your money back.
Photo: Lami Doors: Guaranteed to kill all bacteria within 15 minutes or your money back.
Lami Doors: Guaranteed to kill all bacteria within 15 minutes or your money back.

The 16th China Disabled Elderly Rehabilitation Nursing & Healthcare Products Exhibition was held from 13-15 July at the Shanghai World Expo site.

Chen Rong, Special Correspondent, Shanghai

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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