It’s estimated that counterfeit pharmaceuticals comprise 10% of the global medicine trade. That number is much higher in developing nations, such as in Nigeria, where 50% – 70% of all drugs sold are counterfeits.

Enter mPedigree. This service provides drug distributors with uniquely coded scratch-off labels that are attached to individual units. When consumers receive their prescription medication, they scratch off the label to reveal the serial number, which they then text to an automated service that sends an immediate response indicating whether or not the drug they’ve received is authentic.

Unlike Western methods of combating counterfeit drugs, which rely on supply-side methods of verification such as radiofrequency identification (RFID), the mPedigree model puts power in the hands of those with the most at stake — the patients. Cell phones and text messaging are pervasive in much of Africa, making this a very simple and easily adoptable way to help ensure drug safety.

mPedigree began in Ghana, where its developers hail from, but there are pilot programs underway in other countries. I’d love to see Big Pharma get behind this initiative in a big way. The greatest danger posed by counterfeit drugs is, of course, the health threat: fake medicines have killed and injured thousands around the world. But drug companies’ bottom lines are also threatened by bootleg drugs. I certainly don’t mean to imply that pharmaceutical companies can’t act altruistically, but the financial incentive should provide further motivation to work with mPedigree and similar programs.

Find out more:
mPedigree: Putting Safety into Consumers’ Hands [World Changing]
Counterfeit medicines: the silent epidemic [World Health Organization]
China pushes fake “Indian” drugs in Africa [domain-b]