Media Examines Efforts To Protect Patients In Africa From Counterfeit Medications

HP and the African social enterprise mPedigree on Monday announced a new service that will enable patients in Ghana and Nigeria to verify the authenticity of their medications, Fast Company reports. “Counterfeit drugs are estimated to be a $75-billion-per-year business, [and are] implicated in the deaths of something like 700,000 people around the world annually,” according to the article (Zax, 12/6).

“The system from HP and mPedigree assigns a code that is revealed by scratching off a coating on the drugs’ packaging. This code can be text messaged by the consumer or medical professional to a free SMS (short message service) number to verify the authenticity of the drug,” according to an HP press release. “If the drug packaging contains a counterfeit code, the consumer will receive a message alerting them that the pack may be a fake, as well as a phone number to report the incident. Pharmaceutical safety regulators in Ghana and Nigeria are working to ensure that the concerns of users are promptly addressed,” the release states.

“Technology plays a critical role in solving many serious health problems around the world,” said Gabriele Zedlmayer of HP, according to the release. “While Nigeria and Ghana are the starting points for this program, we are working to create a scalable infrastructure to be used by other regions where counterfeit medicine is a growing issue,” Zedlmayer said (12/6).

According to Fast Company, because “mobile phones are extremely common in Nigeria and Ghana, and becoming more so everyday, the system reaches most people at risk” (12/6). 

“More than 30% of medications on sale in many African countries, along with parts of Asia and Latin America, are counterfeit products, according to estimates from the World Health Organization,” CNN Money reports in an article that examines how Sproxil, a startup company in Somerville, Mass., is working to help protect patients against counterfeit medications.

“Drug manufacturers package their products with a scratch-off label concealing a unique code. When a purchaser sends that code, free of charge, to Sproxil using an SMS text message, it gets checked against a database of codes to confirm the drug’s authenticity. The result is texted back to the consumer within a minute, along with targeted health information like a reminder to take the medication with meals,” the news service writes.

The system “allows every party in a supply chain to verify a medication’s authenticity, which prevents counterfeit goods from getting swapped into the pipeline on the way to end-users. The system is geared toward emerging markets, where the problem of counterfeit medication is greatest and where more sophisticated anti-counterfeiting technologies – such as machine-readable barcodes and holograms – generally don’t work,” CNN Money reports.

The article describes how Sproxil’s services are being used in Nigeria and the company’s efforts to increase public awareness about the labels and system for preventing counterfeit medications. The article includes quotes by Ashifi Gogo, the Ghana-born entrepreneur who created Sproxil, and Eric Apse, an IBM Venture Capital Group partner (Zimmerman, 12/8).

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