Many of the world’s mega-rich are increasingly active philanthropists in the healthcare arena and Spain is no exception with Galician billionaire Amancio Ortega Gaona, the 82-year-old owner of clothing empire Inditex Fashion Group, which comprises iconic brands such as Zara and Massimo Dutti, embarking upon something of a spending spree in his determination to combat obsolescence in cancer equipment. Indeed, since 2017 the Fundacíon Amancio Ortega has received widespread acclaim and applause for donating in excess of EUR 320 million nationwide for the installation of latest generation radiotherapy machines.
it has been a challenging time for the local medical device industry because of a systematic failure to upgrade great swathes of hospital equipment
Jaime Calderon, Varian
Medtech players have long lamented Spain’s deficiencies when it comes to public health infrastructure and the country’s relative tardiness in adopting cutting-edge diagnostic and surgical equipment. “Since around 2007, when the financial crisis commenced, it has been a challenging time for the local medical device industry because of a systematic failure to upgrade great swathes of hospital equipment,” explains Jaime Calderon, managing director of Varian Medical Systems for Iberia. “For example, in our niche of countering cancer, we calculated that around 30 percent of radiotherapy machines in Spain were outdated and required replacement. The current infrastructure is simply lagging behind the expectations of modern society and the norms of Western Europe whereby radiotherapy should be considered a critical part of the toolkit in treating early-onset cancers,” he affirms.
Others agree wholeheartedly. “The country actually seemed to be on a good trajectory until the global financial crisis hit and, though the capital public investment level started to recover gradually after 2013, we are still yet to return to the pre-crisis levels,” concurs Juan Sanabria, general manager of the Iberian cluster of Philips Healthcare. “Public funding remains low and the obsolescence of systems thus remains high. For instance, at the start of 2017, a full 24 percent of CT scanners were more than a decade old, 33 percent of image-guided therapy systems, and 60 percent of x-ray systems, which demonstrates that we have considerable catching up to do,” he warns.
For Spain’s cancer community, at least, the timely philanthropic intervention of Ortega has therefore provided some very welcome respite. “Ortega first channelled his investments towards the health systems of Galicia and Andalusia, and then, once the beneficial outcomes of these endeavours became ever more apparent, he started to scale up and roll out similar initiatives to cover the entire national territory,” recalls Calderon. “This has been a complete game-changer and has put a large spotlight on the importance of radiotherapy in cancer treatment,” he muses, acknowledging that even his company’s local business model has adapted in response. “Since the announcement of the donation, Varian has re-orientated its focus towards public tenders as we seek to extract full advantage from this window of opportunity,” he confides.