Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Feature Economic development

Rise of a new superpower: health and China’s global trade ambitions

BMJ 2018; 360 doi: (Published 09 February 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;360:k595

Rapid Response:

China, Assistive Technology and Market Shaping re Rise of a new superpower: health and China’s global trade ambitions

Murphy (9th February, BMJ) outlines the challenges and opportunities for global health with regard to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. While China’s interest in Pharma is well known, its rapidly accelerating activity in assistive technology was not mentioned; and it is potentially a global game-changer. An estimated 90% of over a billion people who could benefit from assistive technologies, do not having access to them1. Such technologies are mediators and moderators for equitable attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)2. What is needed – particularly in populace low-income contexts - is large-scale production and procurement, based on national contexts and needs, along with the physical and personnel infrastructure to provide a quality service. One that can empower users to become a decisive force in shaping demand and services.

In many poorer countries there is an small scale but highly resourceful and inventive industry of local assistive technology producers and providers. While China may well have the capacity and ambition to provide quality assistive products at the much large scale and lower cost required, it makes no sense to do this without collaborative engagement in market shaping3 . Market shaping means understanding the broader social context of the market, working cooperatively with other stakeholders, and exploring different types of systems to suit different contexts. This requires a degree of systems thinking which has been difficult to develop in related areas of global health4. The challenge then is to systematically harness the ambitions of Chinese industry, the experience of longer established international producers and local entrepreneurs; with the potential collective purchasing power of the donor community and national governments. A ‘super-powered’ China is a challenge and an opportunity, for all with an interest in globally accessible assistive technology.

1. Khasnabis, C., Mirza, Z. & MacLachlan, M. (2015) Opening the GATE to inclusion for people with disabilities. Lancet, 386, 2229-2230.

2. Tebbutt, E., Brodmann, R. L., Borg, J., MacLachlan, M., Khasnabis, C. and Horvath, R. (2016) Assistive Products and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Globalization & Health 12:79

3. Nenonen, S. and Storbacka, K. (2018) Smash: Using Market Shaping to Design New Strategies for Innovation Value Creation and Growth. London: Emerald Publishing Company

4. McVeigh, J., MacLachlan, M., Gilmore, B., McClean, C., Eide, A.H., Mannan, H., Geiser, P., Duttine, A., Mji, M.,McAuliffe, E., Sprunt, B., Amin, M. & Normand, C. (2016) Promoting good policy for leadership and governance of health related rehabilitation: a realist synthesis. Globalization & Health, 12:49.

Competing interests: No competing interests

13 February 2018
Malcolm MacLachlan
Assisting Living & Learning (ALL) Institute, Maynooth University, Ireland; Palacky University Olomouc, Czech Republic; Stellenbosch University, South Africa
ALL Institute, Maynooth University,Maynooth, Co Kildare, Ireland