Having traveled to and lived in Asia for almost 35 years, I am no stranger to pollution in Asia. Last fall when I was in Shanghai traveling to Beijing, I was notified by the hotel that my flight had been cancelled. I wondered why but learned that there was a huge pollution problem in Beijing and that morning more than 500 flights departing to Beijing from all over China were cancelled. Luckily the Beijing skies cleared in the afternoon and I was able to get on a later flight, although this delay caused me to miss my three morning meetings.
Air pollution kills more than 5 million people a year around the world, and it expedites heart disease, stroke and dementia. China and India account for more than half of those deaths alone. Air pollution contributes to more deaths than all but three other risk factors.
Many cities in China have become pollution centers due to the fast pace of industrialization, large emissions of carbon dioxide, poor vehicle emission enforcement, etc. Beijing, in particular, has horrible pollution (sometimes categorized as choking smog). Despite investing a lot of money to clear the air, such as forcing autos there to utilize cleaner technologies and removing older vehicles from the street, Beijing is still a mess, and many Beijing residents are very sick and unhappy. It is hard to leave the Beijing airport without your sinuses starting to bother you. About 1.5 million people died in China as a result of air pollution last year.
India is even worse than China. Last year in the early evening, I was traveling by taxi in Delhi, and you could not see more than five feet ahead of the car. I was scared to death since there was a huge traffic jam and people were getting very angry. Big cities like Delhi will also get pollution from neighboring countries, and sometimes people will blame Pakistani farmers for burning the stunts of grain and other stalks after a harvest is done. About 1.6 million Indians died from poor air quality last year.
While Singapore is the cleanest country in the region by far and the air is normally excellent, from time to time it too cannot escape the fog and pollution from peat fires in Malaysia and Indonesia. Peat fires are intentionally started to dry out land for agricultural purposes, like cultivating palm oil. Particles from these fires are smaller and finer than particles from typical forest fires and can get into one’s bloodstream and cause cardiovascular and other diseases.
Taipei (Taiwan) used to have bad pollution due to the many motor scooters, poor car emissions regulations and nearby factories. But over the last five years, many more pollution regulations have gone into effect, so the air in Taipei has improved a lot. Still, many Taiwanese cities struggle with poor air quality, and the government often issues warnings stating air pollution has reached unhealthy levels.
The Medtech Opportunity
Medtech companies that can provide products to help patients combat pollution are in high demand. Nebulizers are frequently used in treatments for several health problems caused by air pollution, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Philips Healthcare (Amsterdam), manufactures several types of nebulizers. Their InnoSpire Essence Nebulizer Compressor is one of the most popular nebulizers available for purchase in India, competing alongside Indian and Japanese-made devices. On Flipkart, India’s largest online retailer, sales of nebulizers like the InnoSpire Essence increased more than 400% in the last six months of 2015 alone.
PARI Medical (Starnberg, Germany) is another major manufacturer of nebulizers that sells its products in Asia. PARI nebulizers are available in many Asian countries, including countries with significant pollution problems such as China, India, Malaysia, and Indonesia. PARI also supplies its nebulizers to pharmaceutical companies like AstraZeneca.
AstraZeneca (London) has established more than 10,000 nebulizer centers in China, installing nebulizer systems for patients to receive AstraZeneca treatments such as Pulmicort. AstraZeneca plans to continue opening nebulizer centers in China as the number of COPD cases continues to rise.
Companies are also selling new and unconventional medical devices in Asia to treat COPD and other respiratory illnesses. The Lung Flute, created by Medical Acoustics (Buffalo, New York), uses sound vibration to clear mucus in a patient’s lungs. The Lung Flute is sold in a host of Asian countries, such as Japan, South Korea and India. China is currently Medical Acoustics’ largest Lung Flute market worldwide.
Air pollution continues to be a major problem for Asia, and in many cities the problem is only getting worse. As the number of pollution-related illness cases increases, so will the demand for medical devices to treat them.