Read the Conversation

EF: Can you elaborate on your footprint and impact across the African continent? 

KB: Approximately four years ago in Africa, United Imaging embarked on a journey that preceded my involvement. It was precisely this endeavor that captivated my interest and propelled me to join United Imaging. Our operations in South Africa primarily rely on the support of esteemed business partners known as distributors. Among them, United Radiology Solutions stands out as an exemplary distributor. Their genesis can be traced back to their encounter with our cutting-edge equipment during their visit to our headquarters in Shanghai and our research and development center in Houston, TX. This eye-opening experience ignited their realization that South Africa yearned for our presence, and it is in this realm that our distinctiveness truly manifests. Our commitment lies in pushing the boundaries of technology, not merely adhering to prevailing market trends but spearheading innovative breakthroughs. However, this feat was only possible with the remarkable team that we have assembled. As a relatively nascent establishment established in 2011, our accomplishments within this condensed timeframe are awe-inspiring. 

Starting from our headquarters in Shanghai and leveraging our research and development capabilities in China, we embarked on a transformative journey, propelling our organization into a global powerhouse with a workforce of over 10,900 employees. However, such expansion necessitated a cautious approach, as mishandling could tarnish our market reputation, given the industry's rapid pace. Consequently, we adopted a wise strategy, meticulously selecting the countries to penetrate. South Africa emerged as our inaugural choice, driven by the pressing demand for our equipment. Our commitment to equitable healthcare extends beyond exclusive implementation in esteemed universities or high-end hospitals. Every individual should have access to such cutting-edge medical technology. This encompasses more than a mere CT scanner; it includes the progressive advancements within the scanner itself, the incorporation of AI solutions, and the availability of advanced post-processing software. Why should a privileged few monopolize this transformative technology? Ultimately, our pursuit aims to deliver superior image quality and elevate patient care, democratizing these benefits for all individuals. 

Our journey began in South Africa, where we swiftly gained momentum by introducing cutting-edge CTs and MRI technology. We also fostered and placed a center of excellence within one of our key and esteemed doctors, particularly Professor Vangu, a distinguished nuclear medicine specialist affiliated with the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg (known as Wits). Our collaboration with Professor Vangu resulted in the implementation of PET/CT equipment that propelled our brand's growth in South Africa. The remarkable advantages of our equipment speak for themselves, as it not only enhances service provision but also reduces patient costs. By employing advanced technology, we have achieved higher image quality while minimizing the required dosage of radioactive isotopes. This ripple effect translates into significant cost savings for patients. We focus on delivering benefits to our esteemed customers—the end users, whether in operating rooms or healthcare centers. We strive to ensure that our exceptional services and equipment are accessible and affordable to every patient, transcending boundaries beyond renowned medical institutions.  

Our expansion beyond CT, MR and PET/CT technology has led us to countries like Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe. This year, we face an exciting challenge as we venture into Uganda, Tanzania, and Malawi, experiencing rapid growth. Kenya and Ethiopia hold particular significance, as they are close, allowing us to witness firsthand the pressing need for oncology services and centres. It is disheartening to see patients finally receiving a cancer diagnosis only to be unable to access treatment for months or even lose their lives. We aim to effect change by ensuring these vital services are available nationwide to every patient. Waiting a year for treatment must no longer be the norm; we strive to implement solutions beyond mere equipment placement and sales, truly making a difference for our country. 

Engaging in conversation with one of our founders, Dr. Al Zhang is truly inspiring. He offers profound insights into healthcare transformation in China, having witnessed the country's journey from its state two decades ago to its present achievements. Dr. Al Zhang’s ability to envision and embrace change is admirable. It demonstrates that remarkable progress is attainable when solutions are found, and infrastructure is built in collaboration with nations. Our role is to share the same visionary perspective as the people of each country we serve, providing them with tailored solutions that can be implemented nationwide. While we understand that such transformations do not occur overnight, we are committed to nurturing the growth and progress required to make this vision a reality for all. 

Our company's core values revolve around our unwavering passion for driving change. We recognize that this change, whether in a country or for a customer, is crucial and attainable. Our focus extends beyond business growth as we foster close collaborations and partnerships with esteemed institutions like Washington University, Yale University, and UC Davis. These valuable connections enable us to develop our equipment further, as frontline workers provide invaluable insights into market needs. Similar collaborations are taking place in Kenya, where we actively engage with local stakeholders to understand each country’s unique requirements. The fundamental principle remains universal: ensuring accessible healthcare for all. Our shared vision and dedication allow us to transform words into action, prioritizing the genuine needs of these nations and making a tangible difference in their healthcare landscapes. 

EF: In the realm of innovation, how does your young company strive to proactively educate and provide exceptional service for your equipment, positioning yourself at the forefront of industry knowledge? 

KB: Our commitment extends beyond mere installation; we understand that collaboration with our customers encompasses both the pre-sale and post-sale stages, integral parts of the overall process. We established United Imaging Southern Africa, our Pretoria, South Africa subsidiary, to ensure comprehensive support. This hub houses a team of advanced application specialists across modalities such as CT, MR and PET/CT and a dedicated technical team. Our technicians are present in Ethiopia and Kenya, providing localized assistance alongside our network of local distributors and agents. Together, we form a seamless support system that combines the expertise of our subsidiaries in South Africa, our subsidiary in North Africa based in Casablanca, and our service center in Egypt. With three strategic centers in Africa, we are fully equipped to serve the diverse needs of our customers across the continent. 

EF: Are you geographically covering the three different triangles of Africa? 

KB: In my role, I primarily engage with our subsidiaries, which focus on English-speaking regions of Africa. Working with these teams is an absolute delight; their dedication is unparalleled. Although we may not interact daily, our shared passion and understanding of the African market unite us. Africa's market dynamics are unique and require a deep knowledge of its people and their aspirations. While there are challenges, such as funding and limited access, it is important to recognize Africa's immense potential for development. 

The expertise and wisdom possessed by professionals in each country are truly remarkable. During my visit to hospitals in Ethiopia and Kenya, I was astounded by the knowledge and experiences of specialists in these regions. As our company grows, we aim to provide comprehensive support for all our installations and sites. Our expansion is not limited to being a subsidiary in South Africa; we are also rapidly expanding in central and east Africa. 

Our South African subsidiary has grown exponentially in just two years, employing over 11 individuals. The potential for progress in the coming years is limitless, which is truly exhilarating. United Imaging's journey began in 2011, involving three to four years of intensive research and development before entering the market. As of 2022, we have become market leaders in China across all modalities, including PET/CT, PET/MR, CT, and X-ray equipment. We are proud to be successfully disrupting the market with our unique perspective. We strive to lead in health innovations, constantly pushing boundaries and making the impossible possible. Our latest technological achievements are evident, such as the launch of uMR Jupiter, a groundbreaking 5.0T MRI system enabling whole-body clinical imaging. 

Additionally, we introduced the first-ever 75-centimetre wide-bore 3.0 Tesla system and the fastest whole-body PET/CT capable of capturing images in just 30 seconds. These advancements were considered unimaginable years ago, but our unwavering belief in what is achievable drives us forward. With over 10,000 employees and over 45% dedicated to research and development, our team is the driving force behind our success. We embrace challenges and thrive on pushing the market to new heights. 

In the field of MRI, we understand the apprehension and discomfort associated with being inside the tunnel. That is why we continuously strive to redefine the boundaries. We remain at the forefront as technology advances and embraces the digital platform, particularly artificial intelligence. Our pioneering achievement in this realm is the introduction of AI-assisted Compress Sensing, known as ACS, to the MRI market. This groundbreaking technology significantly improves image quality by enhancing spatial resolution while reducing scan time by up to 78% across all clinical applications. This reduction in scan time is particularly vital for critically ill patients and children who may find the MRI experience daunting. We focus on enhancing the patient’s experience through such transformative technologies. 

EF: Can you elaborate on how important it is for you as a company to bring the conversation to South Africa having a preventative approach? 

KB: In our efforts to transform the African markets, we have greatly emphasized prevention, especially in oncology. The alarming mortality statistics in these regions have compelled us to drive change. One significant advancement is the introduction of our uRT Linac, a radiotherapy machine with a fully integrated CT- linac. Unlike traditional approaches where patients undergo separate CT scans and treatment planning, our engine consolidates these processes into a single session. This means that patients can receive immediate treatment after the scan, drastically reducing the waiting time from months or even years to just a single day. By implementing such innovative solutions, we aim to impact mortality rates and improve prevention and treatment outcomes profoundly. 

EF: What three pieces of advice would you give the younger South African women who want to develop a healthcare career? 

KB: If I were to advise my daughter to pursue a career in the medical industry, my unequivocal response would be, "Go for it!" The potential within this field is boundless, but one must have a genuine passion for making a difference. To all the young ladies out there, I wholeheartedly encourage you to embrace this path without any reservations. Women possess a unique emotional connection and personal investment in healthcare, making their impact even more profound. In my experience, particularly within the imaging department, many of us from radiography backgrounds limit ourselves to clinical roles. However, there exists an abundance of opportunities to transcend these boundaries. Transitioning to the corporate side has deepened my understanding of technology and how it can significantly benefit patients. Venturing beyond the clinical realm has made me a more effective radiographer. Thus, the future lies in empowering young women to seize these remarkable possibilities. 

EF: Do you have any final message you want to deliver to our readership? 

KB: One of the primary challenges I encountered in the healthcare industry, particularly within a relatively new company, was establishing brand awareness and clarifying our objectives in the market. We are working closely with stakeholders to create long-term commitment partnerships for the long turn, especially as United Imaging encompasses a much greater purpose and significance. We are fully dedicated to effecting change, and our core values revolve around a profound passion for transformation. This commitment resonates throughout our organization, evident in the sentiments of every employee across regions and countries. As we continue to grow, our recent expansion into the European market being a notable milestone, we are driven by our unwavering determination to make a positive impact within each country we operate in. Our mission goes beyond equal access to healthcare; it encompasses delivering the highest quality healthcare services to our customers and patients. 

Our commitment extends beyond mere equipment sales. We foster collaboration and partnerships with our customers, forming strong bonds that often evolve into friendships. We achieve collective success by working together and sharing knowledge and experiences across regions. Trust and mutual understanding underpin these relationships. The remarkable aspect lies in bringing together specialists from diverse areas, enabling them to exchange insights, learn from one another, and contribute to a unified ecosystem we call the u-Club. Through this interconnectedness, we transcend regional boundaries, connecting the world and transforming healthcare globally. We aim to enhance healthcare for all by fostering collaboration and promoting unity among individuals and regions. It is through collective effort that we can truly make a difference. 

August 2023
South Africa