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NEW DELHI : The covid-19 pandemic has forced the healthcare sector to overhaul doctor-patient interactions, and telemedicine will play a key role to address the challenges going forward, said Ambati Venu, Abbott India’s vice president for pharmaceuticals. Venu said his company has ramped up production to ensure supply of medicines to patients, and that the government’s focus to boost domestic production of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) could provide more sustainability for both domestic and export markets. Edited excerpts from an interview in Mint’s Pivot or Perish series:

How has the covid-19 pandemic impacted Abbott’s India business so far?

The year 2020 has not been one that anyone could have anticipated. It has challenged business models, ways of working, forecast and strategies. The pandemic affected every industry, including healthcare. Patients were not able to visit doctors and there was disruption in logistics and supply to retailers.

What was Abbott India’s strategy to offset the impact, and has it returned to normal after the lockdown was partially lifted?

Our focus has been on ensuring uninterrupted supply of products. In India, to help meet the demand for testing, we have launched two tests for covid-19, a molecular test and an antibody test, and also recently launched the antiviral Favipiravir, a molecule approved under emergency use in India for the treatment of mild to moderate covid-19. We have ramped up our manufacturing capacity.

Our production sites in Goa and Baddi have been operational throughout the pandemic, while maintaining all precautionary measures for the health of our employees. This has ensured operational continuity. Additionally, despite lockdown, we’ve continued medical education and connect with healthcare professionals and regulators using digital platforms.

Will the pandemic lead to any changes in strategy for Abbott?

Technology will continue to be one of the key differentiators in how healthcare is managed in the future. At Abbott, digital interventions are a priority. An example is ‘a:care’, our digital healthcare ecosystem. We are expanding this to make information and solutions available to patients. The ability for patients to meet with physicians still remains a challenge. Telemedicine and virtual consultations can help address some of these challenges. The pandemic has forced the industry to reimagine the way we work in shaping the future of healthcare in India.

After the China disruption, will Abbott consider production of APIs in India? Also, has the government provided enough support for manufacturing APIs in India, especially for MNCs like Abbott and others?

As a company, we have sufficient inventory of APIs to meet our requirements. Abbott does not produce APIs in India and sources through domestic manufacturers and imports. From an industry perspective, we are aligned with the Indian government’s focus to step up domestic production of APIs.

The recent initiatives offered by the government to promote the domestic manufacturing of KSMs (key starting materials) and APIs will play an important role in reducing India’s import dependence. This will ensure more sustainability for both domestic and export markets, where India plays a dominant role.

Will the covid-19 pandemic lead to a greater shift in medicine purchase to e-pharmacy platforms?

The pandemic is changing the way patients seek care and doctors administer it. Channel partners are crucial to making medicines available across the country. All players in the ecosystem need to work together towards ensuring access and availability. There is a need for both physical retailers and e-pharmacies, as they fulfil specific needs of different patient segments. Interaction with our neighbourhood chemist will always remain important. Nevertheless, access, convenience and the move towards a more digital India will propel virtual options.

While the growth of e-pharmacies promises many benefits, it is critical to have a specific framework or policy recognizing their legal status and governing their operations. This will streamline the e-pharmacy business model and check any misuse, by creating a level playing field in the market.

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