September 27, 2011
A group of start-up companies, including US-based Sproxil, is offering a new approach to tackling a global problem: counterfeit medications.
Counterfeiting drugs is a $200 billion industry. So prevalent is the problem that in some nations, up to half of all pharmaceuticals are fake or low-quality. More than a half-million patients die annually while taking bad drugs for malaria and TB.
The new anti-counterfeiting system uses two technologies that are widespread in the developing world: text messaging and scratch-off labels. The scratch-off label reveals a unique code; the consumer texts the code to a toll-free number; and a response, received in seconds, tells whether the drug is genuine.
Sproxil has produced millions of the labels for drugmakers in India and Africa. The company reports that sales of the verified drugs typically increase, even though only 10 percent of customers text the codes.
Inspectors in Nigeria say they have found fewer fake drugs in pharmacies since the system was introduced.