Labelling used to battle African fake pharmaceuticals

18th June 2014 - Fine Cut

A new scheme is due to be launched in Rwanda in a bid to tackle the problem of fake pharmaceuticals in the country.

The labelling solution, developed by Ghanaian company mPedigree, has proven successful in Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya in cracking down on counterfeit medicine. Consultations are now being held with stakeholders in Rwanda with a view to introducing it within the next couple of months.

According to HumanIPO, patients purchasing pharmaceuticals can confirm using SMS whether the drugs are genuine or fakes using 12-digit codes applied to products.

A toll-free service is available to consumers to verify whether or not a code is endorsed by drug regulatory bodies and pharmaceutical manufacturers to provide peace of mind.

Selorm Branttie, mPedigree's strategy director, told the news source that the system confirms if an item "is an original product from the manufacturer".

"This response will contain information such as the brand name, batch number, expiry date and active ingredient of the product. If it is negative, it will prompt you to call a local alert line," he added.

The company behind the scheme was founded in Ghana in 2007 and is planning further launches in East Africa during 2014, with countries that may benefit from the labelling technology in the future including Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

A grant from the Technical Support Working Group of the US Department of Defense was awarded to mPedigree in 2011 after it won the Global Security Challenge.

The solution can be used for other products, including farm produce, electrical goods and cosmetics, with the potential to track consignments as well as individual products.

In an article for the Guardian last year, Rwanda's health minister Agnes Binagwaho and Canadian professor Amir Attaran explained that the country has adopted an integrated solution to combat fake medicines.

With counterfeit drugs thought to be responsible for in excess of 100,000 deaths in poor nations annually and some containing no active ingredient at all, the experts stressed the need for local and global action.

In order to ensure that consumers can trust labelling on pharmaceuticals in Rwanda, the government purchases many drugs directly from manufacturers certified by the World Health Organisation, inspects consignments coming into the country and trains health workers to spot fakes.

Another means of employing labelling to combat counterfeiting of goods is by using specialty pigments in the printed ink, which have unique and identifiable characteristics.

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