While much of the world prepares to slowly emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, some countries are still scrambling to control the virus. One such country is India, which, despite assertions back in March that the country was surprisingly better off given its large population, is currently facing a huge number of active cases – approximately 100,000 – and a rising death toll of over 3,000. Many health officials are concerned that the coronavirus epidemic in India could be disastrous due to its largely inadequate healthcare infrastructure.
Prime Minister Modi is painfully aware of the stress on the country’s already fragile healthcare system, and announced strict stay-at-home orders. While managing to stabilize the numbers somewhat, the lockdown appears to be tearing away at the Indian economy, namely the country’s essential agricultural, industrial and financial sectors. Unemployment rates hit record highs of nearly 30% in May (compared to about 10% in March, before the outbreak of the virus), and analysts predict that India could be headed towards its worst economic recession since 1979.
As a result, Modi announced recently that the Indian government would provide a robust stimulus package of 20 trillion rupees ($266 billion), including a specific stimulus package to assist vulnerable populations with a direct cash transfer of 1.7 trillion rupees ($22.5 billion).
Healthcare and agriculture pushed to the precipice
While India has seen significant economic development in recent decades, the COVID-19 pandemic forced that progress to take a few steps backwards. More than just causing a recession, the pandemic has made plain the real issues hindering the steady growth of the Indian economy – lack of accessible healthcare services and waning food security for a large portion of its population.
Healthcare systems everywhere are in the limelight due to the pandemic, but in India the situation is worse, since its sprawling rural population does not have ready access to a hospital, let alone testing kits and personal protective equipment.
The agricultural sector, which has long been the lifeblood of the Indian economy, is facing equally compelling challenges due to quarantine restrictions, impairing farmers from accessing their fields and selling their harvests. As a result, Indians are experiencing a food security crisis (in addition to combatting a locust attack in recent days).
With the country’s two most critical sectors – health and Agri-food – under stress, India is thirsting for innovation that can help get its healthcare and agriculture systems back on track, and make the country resilient in the face of similar crises in the future.
India’s most basic resources – food and health – are compromised
As India yearns for technologies to solve its most pressing problems, and in light of the enormous stimulus package, Israeli MedTech and AgriFood-tech startups have much to offer.
In the MedTech field, remote health monitoring solutions such as Beecardia’s offer affordable and easy-to-use solutions for remote monitoring, including ECGs (electrocardiograms), portable cardiographs, and stethoscopes, as well as kits for rural areas that could be useful in testing for COVID-19. Start-Up Nation Central’s Digital Health & Life Sciences Sector Lead, Lena Rogovin, explains that due to a limited number of family doctors in India, huge distances between hospitals and rural areas, and a lack of medical equipment in those areas, these solutions could be a lifesaver for the Indian market.
Another issue in India is hygiene, which is exacerbated by the lack of personal protective equipment. One solution was developed by an Israeli startup, Bio-fence. The company’s antimicrobial (anti-viral) coating for large surfaces can be deployed at relatively low costs in order to get India’s major industrial sectors (especially factories) back to business.
There is also the aspect of health insurance in India, which is currently being expanded to provide coverage for poor and vulnerable populations that are out of work. Israeli startup GYNISUS uses artificial intelligence to help hospitals and doctors focus on patients with a higher risk of contracting COVID-19, and can forecast resource needs and cost management.
Digitizing the agricultural supply chain
Indian farmers are in dire need of digitalization solutions that will allow them to effectively store current lines of produce, as well as sell them online to enable a continuous flow of revenue, according to Shmuel Rausnitz, AgriFood-tech Analyst at Start-Up Nation Central, who mentions several Israeli startups that can address these needs:
Avenews digitizes the AgriFood supply chain, granting greater visibility to everyone involved, from farmers, to traders, to consumers in quarantine in need of food commodities. Another Israeli digitization platform is Rapid Farm, which offers an e-commerce platform for farmers to sell directly to consumers, thereby stabilizing supply chains in India.
Rausnitz notes that it is important to think about the day after, which is where companies like Vibe Imaging Analytics come in, developing solutions for sterile food packaging and processing, with the ability to quickly examine samples and evaluate quality using camera imaging and algorithms. The solution could be used to get the consumer goods sector up and running and to provide foodstuffs quickly and safely to needy populations.
Preparing for the ‘new normal’
With the COVID-19 crisis still looming, India faces some of the most serious economic and social challenges in the country’s history. However, if there is one thing that this global pandemic has taught us, the potential for cooperation, sharing ideas and generating new ones together, is greater than ever. With technology and innovation, we can imagine new tools for recovering and rebuilding from this unprecedented global pandemic. More importantly, such technologies can allow us to emerge stronger and more resilient to face an uncertain future.