Intrivo CEO on how medtech startups can band together to help Ukraine: 'This is a call to action'

COVID-19 diagnostic developer Intrivo recently donated more than $1 million worth of testing supplies—comprising its On/Go rapid test kits as well as the company’s population health management software and hardware—to hospitals and healthcare facilities in Ukraine. The donation came shortly after that very software predicted a global spike in COVID cases, prompting the company to zero in on the already dire healthcare situation amid the war in Ukraine.

“We became very concerned,” Intrivo CEO Ron Gutman said in an interview with Fierce Medtech. “We thought that the combination of refugee camps and COVID would create devastating consequences.”

And while fewer refugee camps than expected have formed—as nations around the world have welcomed millions of asylum seekers within their borders—the influx of COVID tests still proved invaluable to hospitals in the region.

“There’s a lot of movement of people either with injuries of war or with other issues, which could overwhelm the health system,” Gutman said. Adding a COVID outbreak on top of that, especially with the country’s relatively low vaccination rate, he continued, “can easily bring the entire healthcare system to its knees.”

With that in mind, through its On/Go for Good philanthropic initiative, Intrivo worked with NGOs and the local government to navigate the process of getting supplies into Ukraine, which Gutman said was “one of the most challenging issues we’ve solved—and we’ve solved quite a few challenges since the pandemic started.”

But merely mailing off supplies was “not good enough” for the chief executive, who wanted to “really see and understand the problem and the extent of it on the ground.” So, last month, Gutman joined the test supplies on their journey to Lviv, where he spoke to healthcare workers and patients about the help they need from the rest of the world and documented the entire trip in an accompanying video.

He returned to the U.S. with a mission, a plan to send even more COVID testing supplies and a “wish list” of other items desperately needed by healthcare facilities in the region.

Thanks to a flood of donations from pharmaceutical companies and international governments, they’re well stocked in essential medications, Gutman found. But they’re still in need of certain supplies—many of which could be contributed by medtech companies of all sizes—to treat conditions that may not be obvious side effects of war but are prevalent nonetheless.

The rate of premature births, for example, has shot up since the start of the Russian invasion.

“One thing I never thought about, when I think about the consequences of war, is stress. Levels of stress are so high among women, and that by itself, without any injury, causes premature birth,” Gutman said.“There’s a bunch of equipment that can help them handle this huge influx of premature babies. They were doing pretty well before the pandemic, but the numbers are just overwhelming right now.”

There’s another major opportunity to contribute for developers of mental health and stress management tools, he said, noting that the war and its accompanying displacement of Ukrainian families is “causing a lot of mental health stress in the population.”

To fulfill that wish list of much-needed supplies—and foster greater collaboration within the healthcare industry in the process—Gutman and Intrivo are now aiming to build a coalition of U.S.-based startups dedicated to supporting the region.

“What I really want to debunk is the idea that you need to be the U.S. government or Johnson & Johnson or Merck to be able to provide aid. That’s not true,” Gutman said. “The barrier to entry is very low: You don’t need to provide millions of dollars, it doesn’t need to be a huge burden on you. Just come participate. That’s the message.”

Case in point: Intrivo’s $1 million initial package, which is easily dwarfed by the billions pouring into Ukraine from the U.S. government but did not go unnoticed.

“They were super appreciative of the contribution that we made to them, because although they got aid from other places, COVID tests are something that they still needed and didn’t have the budget for or access to,” he continued. “In the same way, if we can bring in other companies—even if they’re small- and medium-sized companies—that can give us what they’re making, we can put together an aid package and give them what they need.”

Gutman said Intrivo is already in conversations with several companies to join the coalition and begin checking items off the wish list, but he’s hoping to enlist many more.

“This is a call to action for other healthcare startups,” he said. “We have a list of things that we need, but we’ll take anything they can help with, that they would like to contribute. Because showing solidarity and showing that we’re here to help matters a lot in a time that is so stressful.”

Indeed, alongside the material impact of bringing desperately needed medical supplies to the region, Gutman said he found that taking the time to meet face-to-face with and show his support for hospital workers and patients in Lviv had a powerful effect.

“I’d really love to see more people doing that, because creating these human connections across the globe that transcend borders, transcend languages—because I don’t speak Ukrainian!—creates hope, and that’s the best way to protect these things that are so dear to all of us, like freedom,” he said. “As much as war is scary and seems bigger than what we can handle, every single person, by providing some hope to these people, makes a big difference.”

He added, “There’s a lot of power in a lot of people coming together to do tiny little things that add up to something really big.”