African Social Enterprise mPedigree Networks has been running a program in Nigeria and Ghana that allows consumers to verify the authenticity of anti-malaria drugs by using mobile phone SMS technology. With the new service, patients taking a range of medication and send a free text message to get an instant response as to whether the medications are genuine.
Counterfeit medicines often contain the wrong quantity of active pharmaceutical ingredients, which can result in illness or death. The system 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.
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.
“Counterfeit pharmaceuticals are a big problem for developing nations, particularly in Africa. It is important that we developed an African solution to an African problem, using the resources and technologies that are widely available and easy to implement,” said Bright Simons, founder, mPedigree Network. “It’s absolutely imperative that people can trust the authenticity of the drugs they are consuming, and this system will give them an easy and effective way of doing so.”
“Over the years, we have invested a huge amount of time and money in developing drugs which will protect the health of people around the world,” said Dr. Joseph Ikemefuna Odumodu, chief executive, May & Baker Nigeria, and president, West African Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association. “It’s in both our and our customers’ interest that they receive the full benefit of that investment. This system will safeguard both of us now and in the future.”
HP is providing the hosting infrastructure for the service, as well as the security and integrity systems, through its data centers in Frankfurt, Germany. mPedigree Network is providing the business process interfaces that allow pharmaceutical companies to code their products for the system and to monitor use of genuine and counterfeit drugs.
The service, which was endorsed by the West African Health Organization, is expected to be available for other medications and in more countries in the near future. All GSM mobile network operators in Ghana and Nigeria are signatories to the scheme.
“Technology plays a critical role in solving many serious health problems around the world,” said Gabriele Zedlmayer, vice president, Office of Global Social Innovation, HP. “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.”
In November 2010, mPedigree won the start-up category of the Global Security Challenge in London, becoming the first organisation in the Southern Hemisphere to win the award according to the organizers, and in February 2011, mPedigree won the 2011 Netexplorateur Grand Prix at UNESCO in Paris, for combating fake medicine in Africa through texting.