Icembe Medical managing director Dr Sibusiso Mhlambi. Image: Supplied.
DURBAN -  Icembe Medical, which has recently been approached by the University of Cape Town (UCT) to partner with them on a project that looks at researching and developing a skin-substitute product for use by patients with extensive burns, is repositioning itself in the South African industry as a local  medical technology and solutions provider .

It competes against imported products in the health sector by providing cheaper, good quality alternatives.

Icembe started as a marketer, seller and distributor of products from multi-national Smith and Nephew from 2005. The company steadily grew in sales capturing a large market and generating a record revenue exceeding R80 million in 2014. 

Company managing director Dr Sibusiso Mahlambi said, “We were fortunate that over the past decade we had partnered with two multinational companies Smith & Nephew and BSN Medical.”

At the end of 2016 there was a mutual agreement that the relationship had matured with both partners. Icembe decided to go  independent. 
“We are now a fully-fledged and independent company that operates in the medical supplies business.  Icembe  focuses mainly on wound-care bandages and dressings being textile based.

Icembe said the  UCT project aimed to develop a locally researched and developed skin substitute product using local technology that would be of the same quality as those currently imported abroad. 

The Department of Trade and Industry is giving Icemebe grant funding of more than R19.5 million for the project with research partner UCT. 
“One of the conditions we faced over the past 12 years was that we could not operate in the private sector and the Western Cape, which already had suppliers when they started.

Today we have a partnership with private hospitals chain Netcare, selling to Busamed and expanding to other groups supplying wound-care products. We currently have been awarded exclusively a three-year tender in the Free State to supply the negative pressure therapy product. The product is also being used in the country’s largest hospitals, Chris Hani Baragwanath, George Mkhari and Tembisa Hospital. The progress we have made in a short period of time is pleasing.”

cembe is repositioning itself in line with the government having embarked on the National Health Insurance (NHI).

"The government has introduced various policy frame-works to as part of the NHI support scheme currently piloted with the intention of having a national coverage for every South African citizen access to quality affordable medical treatment,” said Mahlambi.  

Mahlambi said, "Bringing new products in a conservative medical industry and brand loyal is difficult. Convincing our customers that what we are bringing is equal quality as what we used to sell is hard. The positive is that our new products are cheaper.”

IIcembe has embraced the Black Industrialists Programme seeking to support local content project that encourages more black entrepreneurs to consider value adding businesses like manufacturing to deal with the high unemployment in South Africa.  He said the local health industry had suffered due to imports leading to a lot of retrenchments in South Africa. 

But Mahlambi said, “Plans are far-afoot to set up a manufacturing facility of textile based-medical products, that includes bandages and dressings currently imported mainly from India."