“India’s medtech industry has the potential to serve global market”

In an exclusive interaction, Krista Donaldson, Chief Executive Officer, Equalize Health shares her views on the medical devices market, company's current activities, India plans, future outlook and much more

For more than 15 years, Krista Donaldson has driven innovation in product design, engineering, and international development. As the Chief Executive Officer of Equalize Health, Krista leads the organization, establishes its vision, and ensures that the company impacts everyone it serves.
Krista’s doctoral work was among the first to focus on engineering and social entrepreneurship in less industrialized economies. She holds a B.E. from Vanderbilt University and a Ph.D. from Stanford University.
In an exclusive interaction with Rahul Koul, Chief Editor, BioVoice News, Krista Donaldson, CEO, Equalize Health shares her views on the medical devices market, company’s current activities, India plans, future outlook and much more:

BV LogoYour views on the ways in which Covid-19 highlighted the relevance of medical technologies? Your experiences and learnings during the pandemic?
Covid19 – more than ever – highlighted the importance of medical technologies. Medical Technologies like RT-PCR, pulse oximeters, oxygen concentrators, ventilators have been household names due to their use during the pandemic. The pandemic also showed how rapidly medical technologies can be scaled when there is a coordinated response from all stakeholders
Our learnings from the pandemic reinforced our belief that healthcare workers need to have a voice in developing solutions to save lives. Pandemic or not, they work hard to provide care to patients under extremely difficult circumstances..
Unfortunately many of the disparities in maternal and newborn health have worsened as a result of the pandemic. The WHO reported that across the world, many critical services like antenatal care and hospital visits were disrupted, possibly reversing a decade of progress in maternal and newborn health.
BV LogoInspiration and foundation story behind your company? How much of the objectives have you achieved so far and why?
I became passionate about healthcare after the 1998 Embassy bombing in Kenya. I was working there at the time of the tragedy. There was so much devastation. Thousands of innocent people were injured and struggled to get the help and healthcare they needed to recover. It impacted me greatly.
Inspiration for Equalize Health came in 2009, when a colleague met an Indian doctor who was treating jaundiced babies with sunlight. Ineffectively treated jaundice leads to brain damage or even death in infants. He was frustrated that his hospital could not afford a phototherapy device which is the standard of care for newborn jaundice. This learning led to our first project, Brilliance phototherapy. Brilliance is an affordable, effective and durable phototherapy device that works in even the toughest settings. To date, Brilliance has treated over 1.4M babies globally.
Equalize Health (earlier known as D-Rev) was founded with the mission of making medical technology accessible to everyone – no matter where you live. Since then, we have launched 5 world-class, affordable medical technologies to market and our products are available in over 75 countries. We have treated 1.5 million patients with our devices including 1.1 million patients (the vast majority newborn babies) in India.
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How is Equalize Health making a difference to the healthcare industry and society? How do you measure the impact?
Working with local and global partners, we have expanded access to world-class medical technology in 75+ low and middle income countries. In developing new solutions, we partner with local innovators to source relevant technologies and make them available across the world. We have created pioneering partnerships with leading medical technology companies to distribute and scale our products. The biggest difference we hope to make in the healthcare industry and society is to prioritize healthcare workers’ needs and wants in the  development of medical technology and services.
Too many affordable medical devices are high-end devices with some of their features removed – but that’s not what most hospitals in India need. Our devices take into account the unique needs of India’s healthcare workers. For example, we know that nurses are already very busy. Equalize Health devices are designed to be world-class, while also maintaining simplicity. We aspire for our devices – and medical technology in general – to help overburdened healthcare workers  be better equipped to do their jobs and with less stress.
We measure impact of our work through metrics such as patients treated and disability adjusted life years (DALYs). We look at commercial metrics like units sold, market share, etc. to set our strategy to make sure our products are reaching the people who most need them.
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What are the products and services offered by Equalize Health?
Our current and future products address the largest contributors to newborn and maternal death globally. We currently offer several phototherapy devices and a lightmeter to treat jaundice in newborns. Over the next several years, we will be launching a CPAP device to treat respiratory distress in babies and a suite of products to detect and treat postpartum hemorrhage.
We also offer a tele-mentoring program as a service to improve knowledge, skills and practices among healthcare professionals. For example, we have a partnership with the Government of Chhattisgarh and UNICEF to support public hospital nurses who care for newborns.
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Key milestones in terms of product innovation achieved by the company in the last couple of years?
We surpassed 1M patients treated with our devices in 2020! We are close to surpassing 1.5M now.
Design of a flow-driven, battery powered, portable neonatal CPAP device with heater and humidifier to improve the quality of care given to newborn babies with respiratory distress. Respiratory distress syndrome is the leading cause of death of newborn babies in India and globally.
Design of a simple, yet novel device to accurately measure and detect  blood loss due to postpartum hemorrhage. Current methods to measure blood loss rely on unreliable and inaccurate visual estimation methods.. Postpartum hemorrhage is the leading cause of maternal death globally.
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How has the company performed financially? Who are your major donors and their expectations?
As a mission-driven organization, we use our product revenue to develop new solutions that address healthcare gaps. We are supported by a global group of mission-aligned donors composed of institutions, family foundations, and individuals.
Our supporters expect us to design and deliver world-class, affordable medical technology that has outsized impact.  We are rated as one of the world’s most effective charities by the globally renowned charity evaluators The Life You Can Save and Charity Navigator.
We deliver the most impact for the least money. It’s one of the reasons why we are funded and recommended by the world’s most discerning philanthropic organizations.
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What brings you to India? How do you view the Indian medical technology sector and opportunities here?
India is an important geography for us and we have cultivated partnerships here for 12+ years. Our phototherapy device was designed based on user research in India. Brilliance is manufactured in India and is available around the world.
India is home to Equalize Health’s largest of four offices: New Delhi, Nairobi, San Francisco, and Seattle. We see India not just as a place for our products to create impact, but also as a hub for medtech innovation and ideas.
The Indian medtech sector, with its emphasis on local innovation and manufacturing, has the potential to serve the needs not just of the Indian market but the global market as well. Under the Make in India program launched by PM Narendra Modi, infrastructure for domestic manufacturing of medical devices is being created across the country.
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How important are the affordability and accessibility of medical devices to the masses? Your experiences and way forward
Affordability and accessibility are critical to help improve health outcomes. In India, access to healthcare is often limited by affordability. Ayushman Bharat scheme helps reduce the financial burden of healthcare for the poor and vulnerable sections of society in India. In addition, health infrastructure created by public and private sectors in India will help improve access.
Equalize Health’s focus is on designing high-quality, affordable devices that meet the needs of the healthcare workers. Our partnerships with medical device companies are designed to improve access to world class medical devices to India and other low and middle income countries.
Going forward, we are looking to expand our footprint and team in India for partnering with local innovators, expanding our manufacturing partnerships and collaboration with medtech companies to improve access to our products in India and globally.