This article was also published on MedTech Intelligence.
Historically, Myanmar (known as Burma until 1989) has been isolated from the rest of the world. Recent political changes have, however, opened Myanmar up to the West, stimulating economic growth. In particular, the medical device markets are expected to experience high growth over the foreseeable future.
Myanmar was long shunned by the U.S. and European governments, through multiple sanctions placed by these Western governments. In the late 1990s, the United States placed economic and military sanctions on Myanmar. At the same time, the United States called back its ambassador due to severe human rights conflicts and oppressive military rule in the country. In 2011, Myanmar swore Thein Sein in after holding its first election in 20 years. Shortly thereafter, both the United States and European Union began loosening economic sanctions. In 2016, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s won Myanmar’s presidential election, ending 50 years of military domination. Although the Constitution bans her from becoming president, Aung San Suu Kyi’s official position as State Counsellor still provides her with a significant amount of power. In September 2016, President Obama pledged to lift even more sanctions placed against Myanmar in efforts to improve trade and business.
Due to their historic exile from the West, Myanmar’s healthcare system has been severely lacking. Currently, only basic care and minor acute disease management is offered from the government-supported public healthcare system. The World Health Organization ranked Myanmar’s healthcare system very low due to the government’s low spending on healthcare (approximately 3.5% of the government’s budget). Despite this, Myanmar’s opening to the West has generated much interest and support in recent years for improved healthcare.
Results from a recent survey conducted by Forbes showed that not only were Burmese consumers more interested in Western healthcare products, but they were also willing to pay more due to the belief that Western therapeutics are of higher quality than local products. While Myanmar must further address certain political issues and stimulate further economic growth, the medtech industry looks very promising for Western manufacturers and investors.
Government Healthcare Reform in Myanmar
Over the past five years, the Burmese government has worked to significantly increase healthcare expenditure, hoping to increase the healthcare budget 6% by 2020. The government is increasing focus on medical equipment and medicines, and building health insurance infrastructure. The government also plans on establishing a universal health coverage plan by 2030. This increased healthcare spending will make the Myanmar medtech industry a key opportunity for Western device companies.
Medical Device Registration in Myanmar
The Myanmar Ministry of Health’s Food and Development Administration (FDA) oversees the safety and quality of medical devices and drugs. Although not formally a law, imported medical devices must obtain an Import Recommendation (IR) from the FDA, which is often difficult due to complicated document requirements and long processing times. Most devices only need approval and not registration, with the exception of devices such as MRI machines, CT scanners and X-ray machines.
Currently, the only legislation that regulates medically related goods is the National Drug Law, enacted in 1922. The FDA is drafting the Law on Medical Devices so that it adheres to the ASEAN Medical Device Directive (AMDD). This law is a major technical regulation update for Myanmar, and will be followed by drafting implementation regulations and the development of a Medical Device Registration list.
Rising Demand for Medical Devices
A variety of factors have contributed to the increased need for medical devices in Myanmar. The increase in healthcare spending has driven the growth of healthcare facilities and the need to purchase new medical devices. Along with an increasing aging population, there is also a rising incidence of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease. In general, innovative medical devices, minimally invasive treatments, telemedicine and mobile healthcare are rapidly gaining popularity in Myanmar.
Overall, Myanmar government officials have expressed a greater need for diagnostic tools. There is a growing necessity for early detection and prevention techniques, hence the in-vitro diagnostics (IVDs) and diagnostic imaging (DI) markets are growing quickly. Many hospitals lack basic diagnostic imaging equipment such as X-rays or ultrasound machines, and sophisticated medtech products are generally only available in large, private hospitals. Newer technologies such as 3-D and 4-D ultrasounds will also significantly improve diagnostic procedures. High quality tests and early disease detection needs will provide Western companies with many opportunities in the foreseeable future.
Two years after the lifting of sanctions in 2012, GE Healthcare opened offices in Yangon, Myanmar. According to GE, the company has pledged to help reduce maternal and fetal mortality rates, and has delivered more than $500,000 in equipment and has funded $2.5 million in healthcare training as of late 2015. GE has also partnered with the Ministry of Health to provide medical device training and healthcare delivery training. Since opening its offices in Myanmar, GE Healthcare has sold thousands of devices to hospitals and clinics across the country. Other companies such as Medtronic and Johnson & Johnson have also found success in Myanmar.
Myanmar’s Pharmaceutical Industry
In addition to medical device companies, foreign pharmaceutical companies are experiencing success in Myanmar. According to a 2013 report by BioPharm, Indian drug companies held 35%-40% of the pharmaceutical market, and foreign investment will continue to grow. In particular, brand-name drugs are expected to gain popularity as healthcare reforms continue to be implemented and increased government healthcare spending continue to drive the demand for pharmaceuticals.
Despite its difficult past, the government of Myanmar has made significant democratic improvements in recent years. The Burmese government has made the biggest strides in improving healthcare by increasing the healthcare budget and establishing better rules and regulations. Along with these positive changes, lifestyle and disease trends are rapidly driving the need for certain medical devices, IVDs and diagnostic tools, and pharmaceuticals. Together, these opportunities will provide Western medical device and pharmaceutical companies with good opportunities. To get a foothold in the Myanmar market, device companies should move quickly to build up their brands and reputation in this marketplace.