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Aug172015

Addressing Ghana's counterfeit drug problem one text at a time

Image Source: Bloomberg, Photographer: Nana Kofi Acquah

Drug Lane, which runs through a market in the heart of Accra, Ghana, is littered with vendors selling painkillers and antibiotics from various pharmaceutical companies, reports a recent Bloomberg article.  Drug Lane's system, however, has such little oversight and is so permeable that as many as one in three medicines sold there could be counterfeit, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compared to just 1% in the U.S. and Europe. This is a major issue for Ghana and other African regions, where according to one study, fake and poorly made malaria drugs contributed to the deaths of more than 100,000 children across Africa.

While many agencies and NGOs have tried to address the issue, one Ghanaian entrepreneur in particular is making headway in the crackdown of Drug Lane and other areas like it. Bright Simons launched his company, mPedigree Network, in 2007. The company sells software that manufacturers use to label individual packs of medication with a 12-digit code hidden under a scratch-off panel on the packaging. Those who purchase the medication can text the code to mPedigree to determine if the product is authentic or not. The company believes that being based directly in one of the regions worst hit by counterfeit drugs offers a competitive advantage, and others agree. According to Jorn Lyseggen, a San Francisco-based entrepreneur:

African entrepreneurs, African startups, (and) African companies, of course are the first and the best to find a solution to local problems.

Technology and local knowledge are powerful tools to help address social issues like counterfeit drugs in African regions. Here at Mars, we are working with one startup through our Kenya-based entrepreneur accelerator program, Maua, called Reliefwatch. The startup helps developing countries that lack the infrastructure to effectively manage supply chains track expired and out of stock medications and medical supplies through cloud technology.

We want to hear from you. Are there other examples in developing countries where technology is intersecting with social issues to drive solutions?

-- Clara Shen

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