One of the saddest things that can ever happen is a preventable death, a situation where you have all the markers and solutions and still do not get deliverance of a happy ending. This is the big disservice of counterfeit drugs.
Diseases that would otherwise be exacerbated by the simple intake of the adequate drugs lead up to the patient’s demise because the drugs that the patient has access to are fake.
Counterfeit drugs are, however, a brutal reality and there exists a multi-billion dollar a year global trade in them. As a result of this reality, the World Health Organization says that over 120,000 people a year die in Africa as a result of fake anti-malarial drugs alone. According to WHO, it is either the drugs were substandard or simply contained no active ingredients at all.
Substandard drugs, which contain an insufficient dosage of active ingredients, also present another type of danger in the sense that they can lead to drug resistance for infectious diseases like malaria and tuberculosis.
In Africa, despite a battle that has been raged long and hard against counterfeit drugs, these fakes still find their way into pharmacies, clinics, and street vendor stalls, or are sold online via thousands of unregulated websites.
The Startups Battling Counterfeit Drugs
Ten years ago, a Ghanaian social entrepreneur, Bright Simons, set up a verification system for counterfeit drugs called mPedigree Network. Using printed barcodes and scratch-off stickers that were developed in partnership with US tech giant Hewlett-Packard, mPedigree helps consumers check the authenticity of a drug against a central database.
The consumer can, therefore, text a unique code to mPedigree and find out if a purchased product is genuine. Using bespoke software, manufacturers of drugs are able to register each packet of medicine in the factory and incorporate this data into mPedigree’s database. To date, the database has registered more than 2,000 products.
Speaking to BBC, Mr. Simons estimates that 75 million people have benefited as a result of fake drugs being intercepted in Africa, and mPedigree now operates in 12 countries across Asia and Africa.
Another non-profit organization, Sproxil, which was launched in 2009, also joins the fight in much the same way, allowing participating drugs companies apply for scratch-panel stickers that can be attached to their packets of drugs.
Customers can then scratch off the panel to reveal a code which they text to Sproxil. The company checks the code against its database of genuine drugs and texts back a confirmation of authenticity. The customers can also scan the barcode or simply ring a call center staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week to verify that the drugs are genuine.
To incentivize the consumers, Sproxil offers mobile phone airtime rewards and over 70 drugs companies have signed up to the service. Despite the good work that these technological startups are doing, there is still a wide swathe of the counterfeit drug trade to defeat.
Raising awareness among the brand owners and consumers of these drugs as well as employing stricter regulations and steeper punishment for the crime of peddling counterfeit drugs are all necessary steps to gain an upper hand in the fight against counterfeit drugs in Africa.