As the Secretary of Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, Dr. T Ramasami, has been actively engaged in the development of policies and programs for science and research activities. In an interview with eHEALTH, Dr. Ramasami talks about the initiatives of the Ministry of Science and Technology towards proliferation and development of medical implants and devices and the overall growth of the medical technology innovations in India. Excerpts from the interview.

Please share your perspective on the importance of medical technology innovation in India. 

In recent years, it has become increasingly evident that the healthcare industry has become very strongly dependent on biomedical instrumentation and engineering devices and products. In the past, healthcare was primarily in the hands of medical professionals and had more of a biological orientation and the interface between engineering and medicine was weak in our country. Today, our healthcare systems are improving but the question, whether healthcare is accessible to all, still remains unanswered. This would become possible only when the implants, the biomedical devices, instrumentation and a host of technology related healthcare systems are based on a balanced and developed indigenous industry. Majority of implants and devices, today, are outsourced and imported from elsewhere, because of which, the costs are high and many people are not able to afford them. Medical technology innovation and development in India, hence, is a crucial issue that needs to be addressed.

What are the initiatives taken by the Ministry of Science and Technology for development of the medical equipment and device industry in India?

The Department of Science and Technology has constituted a committee to develop a biomedical devices and technology vision for this country through a national consultation mechanism. Our fi rst meet has already taken place and we are likely to have a few more meetings in the near future. We hope to mount a technology led vision for biomedical devices for the promotion of this industry.

In our other initiatives, the Department of Science and Technology tied up with Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), and held an expert group meeting with about 150 medical professionals. The main agenda for this meeting was to address the issue of medical technology development more holistically. We realise that we need to look at this issue beyond the compartment of the medical devices industry alone. For this, it is imperative to have a set of professionals, who take this up as a career path. There also needs to be an inter-agency commitment to go and develop this sector, across the bottom line, the public-funding situations. This, on the large requires industry involvement and the industry will only get seriously engaged if there is business in it. The business also requires proper industry standards to be in place. For this, the Department of Science and Technology in association with Sree Chitra Tirunal Insititute for Medical Sciences and Technology (SCTIMST), Thiruvananthapuram, has drafted a bill for biomedical devices regulatory authority. To draft this bill, we have gone through various levels of consultation processes. This bill is now in complete form and the Health Ministry is now engaged in taking the programme further. The Ministry  of Science and Technology will participate for development of the technical component of the bill. In this, we also have participation from the CSIR, DBT, ICMR, and colleagues  rom department of science and technology, among others.

Can you throw light on the initiatives of the Ministry of Science and Technology towards creating manpower for biomedical device engineering?

As far as development issues are concerned both the Ministry of Science and Technology and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare are very seriously engaged in this process. Three years ago, the Ministry of Science and Technology funded a programme for M.Tech in Clinical Engineering in IIT Madras with Christian Medical College and SCTIMST as partners. This is a two and a half year programme and two batches have already been admitted for this. These are very special kinds of expert being built in this area to take care of the biomedical devices innovation process.

Unless you have a good industry, youngsters would not choose it as a career option. We are now, basically looking at 30-40 people in the best of IITs to build this process. There are several other institutions which now offer B.Tech in Biomedical Engineering in the private universities in this country, but IIT, Kharagpur; IIT, Bombay; and IIT, Madras have some viable programmes in this stream.

We are also addressing the development of a pull factor for the youth, to come in this particular sector for development of manpower and give them an assured career path, through our inter-agency programme. This brainstorming meeting was held in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences on December 14. We are also planning to setup a special package for this.

What is your perspective on the recent discussion over inclusion of medical courses in IITs. Do you think this will have an impact development of bio-medical engineers?

One of the transitions that we need to undertake is how to migrate across disciplines and boundaries. In the past, as you are aware, medical and engineering streams have been kept apart. However, now we are recognising that that is not a good idea. The IITs, for example, in their B.Tech curriculum are primarily mathematics driven and the biomedical and biology areas are steps apart. IIT is now expanding into medical programmes, but we need to do this with adequate amount of preparation and care. If the culture requires medical and engineering programmes to remain as separate as they are, this wont work. A good example of amalgamation of medical and engineering streams is the Stanford Biodesign programme, ecause of which AIIMS and IIT, Delhi are working together. Now, there is a hunger in IIT graduates to get into medical arena as they are receiving recognition from the medicos. This transition will drive the engineers to work towards this.

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Related April 2010