Medtech leading the way in pandemic collaboration

The declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic by the World Health Organization in March 2020 has impacted on the Australian healthcare landscape in a number of significant and lasting ways.

When the first Australian case of COVID-19 was diagnosed on 25 January 2020, it set in motion a course of events that would ultimately lead to an extraordinary collaboration between government and the medical technology industry as our healthcare institutions set about preparing for an anticipated influx of COVID-19 cases.

The Medical Technology Association of Australia (MTAA) led the development and implementation of the framework and working group structure that underpinned a unique partnership between the Commonwealth departments of health and industry and the medical technology industry to ensure the supply of critically important medical equipment. Four key workstreams sit under this structure: ventilators, personal protective equipment (PPE), testing kits and other intensive-care unit (ICU) equipment.

Through this collaboration, the medtech industry successfully secured this essential medical equipment, not only through the global supply chain but through a number of innovative local partnerships that were able to ramp up Australian manufacturing in a remarkably short period of time.

A study published in the Medical Journal of Australia1 in March 2020 found that, in a maximal surge scenario, the number of invasive ventilators available in Australia’s ICUs would fall significantly short of the numbers required. This need led to an intensive effort to produce a large number of ventilators in a short period of time.

In what is being compared to a wartime effort, a consortium of companies has been brought together, in an unprecedented collaboration involving government, clinicians and manufacturers, many of whom would ordinarily be competitors.

Bringing together a diverse range of locally produced components and expertise, from printed circuit board assemblies produced by a family-owned business in Western Sydney, to Melbourne-based Australian precision engineering capabilities, to home-grown advanced machine tool production, 2000 invasive ventilators will be made available for the Australian stockpile by the end of July.

Working with Pathology Technology Australia (PTA), MTAA and others swiftly worked to provide an exhaustive audit of COVID-19-related testing platforms that were ready to go, including nucleic acid testing (NAT) encompassing RNA extraction and detection systems, and lab-based serology testing. The industry’s ability to collaborate on this meant that we were quickly able to establish that the existing accredited pathology laboratory infrastructure was sufficiently equipped to enable the increased testing that would be required. It also quickly identified a number of critical components that would need to be sourced immediately in order to fulfil the increased demand, many of which were able to be sourced locally.

The PPE workstream stepped up quickly to address what would become a critical area of need, working with the state health departments to establish their projected requirements for critical PPE supplies, including masks, gowns, eye protection, gloves and hand sanitiser. The group worked to source overseas supplies of PPE and connect local manufacturers with the Department of Industry taskforce on manufacturing, as well as providing guidance to local businesses wishing to retool to produce PPE.

The efforts undertaken so far represent a significant change in our contemporary understanding of our domestic manufacturing capacity and demonstrate an untapped potential for more home-grown medtech, a potential we may never have realised without the unprecedented threat of a global pandemic.

Whilst we must remain vigilant and there will likely be further outbreaks over the coming months, as of June 2020, it appears that the worst-case scenario is unlikely to eventuate. However, in what has come to be known as the ‘Australia Model’ there are many lessons to be learned. The Australian industry collaboration strategy is increasingly being recognised as one of the best responses globally, with the effort starting to be replicated around the world as the global leadership of multinational firms begin to acknowledge what has been achieved through their Australian operations.

The tangible outcomes of the Australia Model of government and industry collaboration have demonstrated the role that medtech can play in pandemic planning and what can be achieved when government and industry come together in a genuinely cooperative effort. As an industry, we look forward to what we can continue to achieve together in order to strengthen not only Australia’s preparedness for future pandemics, but our healthcare system as a whole.



Image credit: © Studio