Ghana Fighting Fake Drugs With Technology

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Written by Dana Sanchez

Ghana is using technology, social media and scratch-off labels on medicine packages to help patients identify counterfeit medicines from the real thing before they leave the pharmacy, BiztechAfrica and Ghanaweb report.

This announcement comes as the World Health Organization approved the use of untested drugs including the zMapp in thew treatment of Ebola, according to Ghanaweb.

The WHO warned that where experimental ebola treatments are used, there must be informed consent from patients, and the results of the treatment must be collected and shared, according to a BBC report.

People don’t worry about counterfeit drugs in developed countries — although it’s becoming more of a problem as online markets become more popular. In poor countries it’s an enormous problem, according to a NYTimes blog. Fake drugs can be identical to real drugs with the same amount of active ingredient but more often, manufacturers save money by including little or no real medicine. For example, a quarter-million malaria deaths each year might be prevented if the patients were treated with real drugs instead of fake ones, according to survey of studies of malaria drugs. It found 30 percent of malaria drugs were counterfeit or below standard.

The U.S. Federal Drug Administration is warning against fake Ebola treatments, according to a DailyRx video. Threatening to take action against people selling or promoting the fake products, the FDA said no FDA-approved medicine can prevent or cure Ebola. Several products sold online claim to prevent or cure the virus, but no known cure or vaccine exists.

The Pharmaceutical Society of Ghana has partnered with mPedigree Network
and PopOut to launch an initiative that uses technology to cut down on fake medicine, BiztechAfrica reports.

The PREVENT initiative — it stands for Patients’ Research, Empowerment, Vigilance, and
Education Through New Technologies — looks to prevent fake medicines from entering the Ghanaian supply chain by improving vigilance, empowering patients, and educating the public.

This will be done through social media and the mPedigree Goldkeys platform,
which lets patients and customers use their mobile phones to verify medicines at various pharmacies.

A patient or customer can scratch off a panel on a medicine package label to reveal a pin code, then send the code to be verified via text message. They will then get a response verifying — or not — the authenticity of the medicine.

“Once a fake or counterfeit medicine slips through the system and enters a
pharmacy, the harm has already been done,” said James Ohemeng Kyei, president of
the Pharmaceutical Society of Ghana. “This is now even more critical as this country confronts epidemics such as cholera, and as fears are mounting about Ebola. Fake antibiotics and other medicines would only undermine the control of epidemics.”

Ghanaians are being encouraged to visit the PREVENT website for tips and alerts on how to keep safe and avoid fake medicines. PREVENT has partnered with a number of pharmaceutical companies for mobile authentication of medicine programs.

The move will improve Ghanians’ confidence in the quality of pharmaceuticals sold in Ghana, and in the pharmacy profession, Kyei said. But it will work only if there is successful collaboration with critical government institutions and regulatory agencies such as the Food & Drug Authority, the Ministry of Health, the public and private sectors.

mPedigree, which operates in Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya, hopes to expand in Africa by launching its services in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Zambia and Tanzania.