Healthcare trends offer a multitude of opportunities for disposable nonwoven products.
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The disposable medical nonwoven market is projected to reach $20 billion by 2017, according to a comprehensive report from market researcher Global Industry Analysts (GIA), San Jose, CA1. Growth is being influenced by demographics, as well as three significant health conditions—obesity, diabetes and an aging population.
These health trends typically increase surgical procedures, and hence the demand for disposable medical products (e.g., protective apparel). There is an additional influence on sector growth arising from the demands of developing world economies where there is an ongoing overhaul not only in healthcare per se, but also in the expectations of a system and the ability to finance a higher level of care. These global factors offset the potential reduced usage of nonwovens from medical advancements related to natural orifice as well as non-invasive procedures. This group of factors influencing growth has not changed significantly from that proposed by Mironov in 20042.
In healthcare, nonwovens are utilized to a large extent in products that are designed to provide barriers (e.g., barriers between patients and themselves, barriers between the patient and the physician/caregiver and also barriers between patients). The spread of infections—whether it is Hospital Acquired Infections (HAIs) or Surgical Site Infections (SSIs)—continues to rise3. Sporadically, numbers do fall, but this is then followed by an ever-increasing ramp up. This situation is a concern both for the patient and for healthcare establishments.
Nonwoven products remain the component of choice for providing appropriate protection due to their ability to create barriers either from the structure of the nonwoven itself or from an additional active coating for personal protective apparel. However, less invasive surgeries and procedures being carried out remotely by more efficient robots may ultimately impact the overall design needs of these products in the future, along with other performance factors for protective apparel, such as absorption levels, due to a lower volume of any Other Potentially Infectious Fluids (OPIF) or the remoteness of the physician to immediate exposure.
Developing economies, where the demand for healthcare is beginning to increase, are expected to help sustain growth of nonwovens use. These countries will undoubtedly provide alternative markets for new penetration models with disposable protective apparel. This expansion also extends to some markets in Europe where single use, disposable protective apparel is not typically the norm. Generally, in global demographics, the aging population is an important component and plays a significant role. Product innovations are necessary and will be expected for this user group in order to enhance quality of life4.