Today, dear reader, I am sharing the marvellous story of a young entrepreneur. I hope it will inspire Ghana's pharmacists to work together with the country's ministry of health, to bring the idea to Ghana, and help eliminate counterfeit drugs from the supply chain. As their contribution, the mobile phone companies in Ghana could make all drug verification traffic on their networks free, one hopes.
It is culled from the 17th May, 2011 online edition of Forbes Magazine's Helen Coster's "Good Work" blog. Please read on:
"Tech Startup Uses Cell Phones To Root Out Counterfeit Drugs
Counterfeit drugs are a major problem in the developing world, where retail chains like Walgreens don’t exist and pharmacists sell drugs out of small, family-run shops. Counterfeiters insert fakes—which often contain chalk or lead-based paint—at different points in the supply chain. They often sell directly to pharmacists, who think they’re buying a discounted version of the real thing. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, counterfeit drugs represent a $1.6 billion annual market in Africa and Asia alone.
A handful of entrepreneurs are trying to make drug sales more reliable. Pharmasecure focuses on India. Aegate operates in Europe. And Sproxil– a mobile phone-based startup in Boston– works in Nigeria.
Ashifi Gogo co-founded Sproxil two years ago, when he was an engineering graduate student at Dartmouth. Gogo decided to focus on Nigeria, he says, because the Nigerian government is proactive about fighting counterfeit drugs, and Nigeria—the most populous country in Africa– has a strong cell phone culture and “a lot of swindlers.”
Sproxil places scratch-off labels on bottles and blisters– the small aluminum pouches that contain pills. When users scratch off the labels, they see a numerical code. They send that code, via text message, to a toll-free phone number, and immediately receive a text back that indicates whether or not the drug is legit.
Gogo used “under $1 million” in start-up funds—from the Clinton Global Initiative, USAID and other backers—to build Sproxil’s technology. The company makes money by selling the technology behind the scratch-offs to big pharma companies like Johnson & Johnson and GlaxoSmithKline. Earlier this year it received $1.8 million from Acumen Fund, which it will use to expand to India and Kenya. Gogo says that the company is doing “six figures in revenue.”
Sproxil’s biggest challenge is to stay ahead of counterfeiters, who could conceivably add their own fake codes to bogus drugs. Another hurdle is getting people to use the service; the presence of a scratch code could give consumers the illusion of security, even if they don’t send a text to verify a drug’s legitimacy. Gogo says that Sproxil’s users have sent “well over 250,000 text messages.”
In some ways, Sproxil has an easier job than the pharma companies, which are responsible for marketing the service and ultimately, getting people to change their behavior. Creating new, potentially life-saving technology is one thing; getting people to use it is a whole other challenge."
Culled from the 17th May, 2011 online edition of Forbes Magazine