Undoubtedly, you will have already read many articles about the impacts of the current COVID-19 pandemic on the global economy. With many countries facing economic freefall, developing nations, including those in Southeast Asia, are likely to be amongst the worst hit. But some sectors are bucking the trends and are actually growing and attracting more investments. 

One such sector is healthtech. With an increased need for protection from the coronavirus, and a desire for health services to provide safe environments, healthtech in Southeast Asia and globally, has come into its own. 

An already aggressively expanding industry in the ASEAN region prior to the virus outbreak, healthtech saw a surge of interest and investment in the first few months of 2020. Healthtech startups in Southeast Asia are accelerating at a phenomenal pace, due in part to the necessity of the technology and also the increased investment channelled into it to aid the growth of this sector.

doctor holding red stethoscope

Key areas of growth

From AI-based diagnostic tools to manufacturing of personal protective equipment (PPE) and online services to physical delivery platforms, many healthcare products and services that leverage technology to cater to the needs of today’s consumers fall under the healthtech industry. 

We take a closer look at two of the primary growth areas of the sector, telemedicine and online pharmacies and the investments trends. 

Telemedicine

With many countries in lockdown or having movement restrictions in place, venturing out to visit a doctor for a non-life-threatening illness has almost become a thing of the past. Thanks to telemedicine platforms such as Malaysia’s Doctor on Call and Singapore-based Doctor Anywhere amongst others, accessing answers to your health queries and getting advice has become much easier from the comfort of your home, 24 hours a day.

Doctor Anywhere is a prime example of a healthtech business that has benefitted from an investment boost this year, raising $27 million USD towards the end of March. Australian VC firm Squarepeg and Malaysian-based IHH Healthcare are amongst those contributing to the Series-B funding round. The goal is for Doctor Anywhere to expand into the Malaysian and Filipino markets as well as further scale in Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam where it already operates. 

With a startup capital of over $40 million USD, Doctor Anywhere joins the big leagues of healthtech platforms offering one-to-one online consultations with certified doctors and an online pharmacy, delivering required medications to your door. They are currently offering a special COVID-19 online clinic to help assuage worries and offer advice.

Online pharmacies

Elsewhere in the region, the growth of online pharmacy services is continuing apace. The ability to purchase and have medicines delivered to your home while sick or busy is very convenient at any time, but during a global pandemic with movement control orders in place, it is invaluable. 

The heightened demand for such services as a result of COVID-19 has been a blessing for those startups focusing on healthtech in Southeast Asia. Two Vietnamese companies have benefited to the tune of over $33 million USD, thanks to increased investment in the sector. 

Pharmacity, the largest chain of pharmacies in Vietnam, was a big winner in the Series C funding round, bringing in around $31.8 million USD. Much of the investment is for the expansion of its network of stores throughout the country; it aims to have 1,000 stores by the end of 2021. In light of the current situation, it is likely we will see some of the funding finding a home in the further development of its online offering. 

The other significant investment in Vietnam’s pharma industry came in the form of pre-Series-A funding in the sum of $2.5 million USD for BuyMed and their online pharmacy Thuocsi. Pumping money into the company were a range of investors such as India’s Surge early-stage accelerator program, Genesia Ventures, former investor Cocoon Capital and Sequoia Capital. 

Why invest in healthtech?

With many VC firms and private investors sitting tight and watching the markets right now, healthtech startups are offering some of the most logical and secure opportunities. There has been an interest in this sector for quite some time, but as the pandemic shows little sign of abating in many countries, the lure of financing healthtech has become stronger. 

Finding a sector robust enough to withstand a global emergency such as COVID-19 is challenging, but with great value on offer and an unprecedented demand for telemedicine, online pharmacies and safer diagnostic and protective equipment, healthtech is one industry set to grow and become an indispensable part of life.

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