SMS indicates if your medicine is legitimate

2013-03-31 10:00

When one in four prescription drugs in the developing world is counterfeit, according to World Health Organisation estimates, there is clearly a problem.

Thirty-two-year-old Ghanaian Bright Simons had a solution and in 2007 he launched MPedigree.

With it, he took on an industry that is estimated to be worth $75 billion per year, which means that 10% of the global drug market may be counterfeit.

So how does MPedigree work?

At the pharmaceuticals plant, a scratch-off label containing a ­ten-digit verification code is ­added to the container.

MPedigree’s partner, Hewlett-Packard, runs the hosting infrastructure and the security systems for the service from its data centres in Frankfurt, Germany.

This is done in a secure way to protect the validity of the code. Then, when a consumer goes to the pharmacy, they buy the medicine and scratch to receive the code, which they SMS to verify the drug’s ­authenticity. The consumer then receives an immediate SMS ­response to tell them if the medicine is valid or not.

MPedigree is servicing millions of people living in the developing world.

After the 2007 launch in Ghana came the launch in Nigeria the following year. It was launched in Kenya in 2009 then in Uganda, ­Tanzania and India in 2010.

The following two years, 2011 and 2012, saw launches in Bangladesh, South ­Africa and Rwanda.

Simons says that MPedigree originated from a project aimed at linking farmers and cooperatives with buyers to cut out the bureaucratic red tape.

Then in 2007, with the agricultural plan failing, the company ­pivoted linking end-buyers of drugs with government regulators and manufacturers.

Simons says: “In both cases, my motivation as a team leader was to hack complex systems, involving powerful ­actors, so that ordinary people can benefit. At the same time, though, the idea of partnering with corporations to harness business for good appealed immensely to the humanist spring of my libertarian worldview.”

Simons says that, subconsciously, the fact that he spent the last three months of high school hospitalised for a condition that proved both hard to diagnose and treat, may have played a role in his ending up working in the health sector.

“I nearly missed my final exams, which in most African countries is a plight close to a life sentence,” he says recalling that time. “Today I feel deeply drawn to health ­because of its unique mixture of complex systems and basic ­human needs: something to hack, and yet so many lives to save too.”

And awards to be won, it seems.

The UN’s World Summit on the Information Society named MPedigree as one of the top eight projects in ICT for the last decade.

It also won the Grand Prix of the Unesco NetExplorateur and the innovation award at the African Business Awards, both in 2011.

But what about MPedigree’s corporate partners like Hewlett-Packard?

“They are critical,” says Simons. “Their involvement gives me enormous satisfaction.

“Most of the world’s leading ­telecoms companies in India and Africa are obviously strong partners and our global strategic ­partners include Orange Healthcare and Hewlett-Packard.

“We are also in the middle of ­another astounding set of partnerships managed out of South Africa that we shall be announcing in due course,” he says.

City Press probed him for more, but he said we’d have to wait like everyone else.

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