According to a 2010 report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, fake drugs represent an annual market of $1.6 billion USD in Africa and Asia alone. Few counterfeit items can produce a more devastating impact on consumers than counterfeit drugs. They are making their way through the black market into pharmacies where legitimate drugs are sold. Customers can no longer tell whether the drugs they purchase are safe. Plus it is costing vulnerable communities more in healthcare, who often can barely afford it.
At the same time, countries that face this problem have a high rate of mobile penetration. Ghana, for example, had a penetration rate of over 70 percent in 2010 according to the World Bank. Dr. Ashifi Gogo witnessed the prevailing counterfeit drug problem in his native Ghana and, seeing the high rate of mobile usage, founded Sproxil in 2009 to create a solution that would allow customers to easily check with their phones for fake drugs before they leave the pharmacy.
Using a simple mobile phone application, called Mobile Product Authentication, customers would scratch a label on the drug packaging to reveal a unique set of numbers that they would send via SMS to a toll-free number for verification. Almost immediately, customers would get a message back on their mobile phone that says “Yes, genuine.” or “No, fake.” If the product is fake, customers are given a hotline to call in and report the fake product. Hotline operators then contact the appropriate authorities in the country.
The cost-effective and simple to use application can also be replicated around the world. So far, the company operates in five countries: the U.S., India, Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria. Sproxil sells its application to pharmaceutical companies who have been scratching their heads for solutions to tackle counterfeit drugs. To make the system work, Sproxil negotiates the cost of SMS services with mobile phone providers, which would be built into the final unit price of about a couple of cents U.S., and either Sproxil or the manufacturer makes labels for the boxes.
With a functioning business model and potential for significant impact, Sproxil is expanding rapidly, especially in India, Ghana, and Kenya, after raising money from impact investors such as Acumen Fund. From antimalarial medication to drugs for diabetes, Sproxil is helping reach a Millennium Development Goal by combating disease through safe medication.
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