A third of the medicines available in parts of Africa are fake. People have as much as a 50% chance of getting the wrong drug. Patients can’t tell if they are getting the real thing and counterfeit drugs are manufactured in dangerous conditions. 2010 Tutu Fellow Bright Simons outlines in this TEDx talk in Hamburg and how the aim of his company is to use technology to determine the authenticity of medicines. Counterfeit medicines are a real issue in Africa, where near-perfect copies of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies can jeopardize the recovery of patients, or worse, lead to the deaths of people.
Anti-malarial drugs were pulled from pharmacies in Kumasi, Ghana after fakes were found to be on the shelves of these stores. The fakes were responsible for mass fatalities. Good medicines were discarded along with the counterfeits. The system Simon's company developed had to work with existing technologies such as the mobile phone, which is ubiquitous in Africa.
Alternative verification systems such as holograms and RFID haven't been found to be effective. Holograms can easily be counterfeited and RFID is expensive and requires infrastructure not available in small villages. The validation system he built creates a real-time link between the manufacturer and the consumer. By working with the pharmaceutical industry, telecoms, and regulators, they developed a system that would verify that the medicine was real using a toll-free number and a scratch-card number.
The use of this technology has spread across west and east Africa. It is also being used in India and parts of Asia. It has now also being adopted by seed companies to verify that farmers are purchasing seed and not grain.