Wide-spread economic sanctions against Russia amid its invasion of Ukraine continue to cripple the Russian economy. However, some of its essential industries have fallen under exemptions from these sanctions, including the medical devices industry, given that it serves the humanitarian needs of Russian patients seeking essential surgeries. With few exceptions, Russia continues to import most of its medical devices. However, as with many other industries in the country, keeping up with import demands has become increasingly challenging. The purchasing power of its currency has diminished, and global supply chain issues also persist. Additionally, sales and exports of certain medical devices that are deemed non-essential, such as aesthetic injectables and devices that have dual-use capabilities in military operations, including laser-based devices, have been suspended or blocked by other governments under their sanctions.
Sales of more essential devices have continued, albeit in lower volumes given the supply chain issues that are disproportionately affecting Russia due to the ongoing scrutiny and excessive complexity of imports to the country. Furthermore, the demand for devices used to treat trauma patients, particularly wounded Russian troops, are at an all-time high. With at least 7,000 Russian troops killed in combat in the first four weeks of the invasion according to a senior North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato) military official, and assuming the number of wounded being double the number of those killed, at least 14,000 troops are in need of trauma surgeries.
Trauma surgeries require the use of various devices, but common ones include surgical staplers, gauzes, sponges, and bandages, among others. In 2021, before Russia invaded Ukraine, there were approximately 180,000 trauma cases in Russia using surgical stapling devices. However, even a conservative spike of 14,000 additional cases from wounded troops would strain the Russian healthcare system by over 7% in this category. Similar trends are observed in other device markets, and it is unlikely that the healthcare system will meet these demands in a timely fashion, given the reports of large numbers of Russian troops with long wait times to receive treatment for their wounds, mostly across the Western Oblast in Russia and in Belarus. The fact that many troops cannot be treated immediately will only lead to more health complications, such as exacerbated wounds and growing infections, and ultimately increased mortality rates.
In response to the backlog of trauma patients, Russia is increasingly relying on neutral countries like India to supply it with medical devices. However, at current rates, it is impossible for these neutral countries to completely meet all of Russia’s needs. Unlike Russia and its troops, the Ukrainians are set to access lifesaving treatments with the support of the Polish health service, as the prime minister of Poland recently announced his country being ready to treat at least 10,000 injured Ukrainian troops. While this won’t significantly increase the market size of trauma-related medical devices in Poland, it nevertheless highlights which countries have more stable supply chains to access critical medical devices.