Mobile phone providers launch partnerships to curb counterfeit drugs in Africa


An anti-counterfeit drugs campaign poster: Mobile telephony firms Airtel and Orange have launched partnerships to curb counterfeit drugs in Africa.

Bharti Airtel has announced a partnership with Sproxil to combat the counterfeit drug market in Africa. Through the partnership, Sproxil’s Mobile Product Authentication (MPA) solution will allow consumers to verify product genuineness within seconds through a text message while Airtel will offer this service free to its users and not charge for any SMS-based verification.

Sproxil’s service works by placing a scratch-off label on products, and then when consumers purchase a product, they scratch off the label to reveal a unique, random code. The code is then sent via SMS to a country-specific Toll Free short code, and the consumer receives a reply almost instantly indicating whether the product is genuine or not.

“Our goal is to bring affordable and easily accessible health services to over 450 million people. The battle against counterfeit drugs is a huge step towards this goal. Whilst this agreement is a step in the right direction, I also believe that collaboration between all the stakeholders in the mobile health ecosystem is key to a successful and sustainable future,” said Andre Beyers, Airtel Africa chief marketing officer in a media release.

The drug verification service will be available to Airtel’s subscribers in 17 African subsidiaries including Burkina Faso, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Madagascar, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

The partnership is designed to facilitate the deployment of Sproxil’s Mobile Product AuthentificationTM (MPA) solution throughout developing regions of Africa– markets where Airtel is entrenched as a leading telecommunications provider.

Sproxil is a venture-backed, social enterprise that provides world-class brand protection services in emerging markets. The firm’s Mobile Product Authentication TM (MPATM) solution helps ensure purchased goods are not stolen or counterfeit by allowing consumers to verify product genuineness within seconds through a text message. Compatible with any tangible item, Sproxil’s solution is widely used by leading pharmaceutical companies to curb the multi-billion dollar counterfeit drug industry.

The launch of Airtel’s drug verification service follows the October 2011 launch of a similar service by Orange affiliates in Africa, including Kenya, meant to boost the government’s efforts to rid the local market of counterfeit drugs.

The service, launched in partnership with mPedigree, an international network that partners with principal telecom operators and leading pharmaceutical industry associations in Africa, was meant to allow patients and medical service providers to confirm whether drugs are genuine by typing in a serial number on the medicine packet and sending it to a four-digit code that will generate a prompt response to show whether the drugs are genuine or not, at no cost.

Statistics by the National Quality Control Laboratories as well as those of the Pharmacy and Poisons Board indicate that 30 per cent of the drugs in Kenya are counterfeit with their value being estimated at Kshs 13 billion.


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