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Mobile technology offers option to combat fake drugs in West Africa

Olusegun Abolaji Ogundeji | Sept. 30, 2014
Cholera, malaria and the rapidly expanding threat of Ebola have hit African countries with a related health-care problem: the scourge of fake drugs.

Meanwhile, Sproxil's Mobile Product Authentication application has hit the 10 million user milestone four years after its February 2010 launch. Like mPedigree's system, Sproxil's MPA allows consumers to text codes to a phone number, but also offers a Web app and allows for calls to a call center to verify the quality of a product.

The MPA solution was first implemented in Nigeria with the support of NAFDAC and now includes product protection for 10 industries including agribusiness, health and beauty products, and food and beverages. In Africa, it operates in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and India, according to Sproxil's global business coordinator, Meliza Anne Mitra.

"Consumers can avoid potentially harmful or deadly counterfeit products, especially counterfeit drugs, which have been found to have useless fillers like starch and flour and dangerous poisons like rat poison and road paint," Mitra said. "Our call center also helps consumers during their purchasing process by answering certain product-specific questions and giving manufacturers and distributors better insight into their consumers' needs. This feedback loop helps them deliver better products to their consumers and instill greater trust and loyalty in their brand."

However, despite the huge number of mobile phone users in the region, overcoming some challenges would enable the mobile technology to spread faster. The main challenge is that not all pharma institutions are participating in the various initiatives. The biggest ones have, but some have not used the verification systems for their flagship products yet.

More work on consumer awareness needs to be done as well. "The public education aspect of the campaign needs to reach even more deprived areas, which requires even more resources for public education, which isn't very easy to procure," Branttie said.

 

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