Fighting Counterfeit Drugs With Mobile Technology

Counterfeit drugs are a huge problem in Africa and elsewhere. HP and the African social enterprise network mPedigree team up to help ensure patients that the medicine they’re taking will cure them, not harm them.


HP and mPedigree, an African social enterprise network, announce today a new program that helps patients in Ghana and Nigeria verify that their medicines are genuine.

Having malaria is bad enough, without having to worry about whether the drugs that are supposed to cure you may in fact kill you. Counterfeit drugs are estimated to be a $75-billion-per-year business, implicated in the deaths of something like 700,000 people around the world annually. Ten percent of the global drug market may be counterfeit, according to the World Health Organization–and that figure may be close to 25% in developing countries.

“It’s absolutely imperative that people can trust the authenticity of the drugs they are consuming, and this system will give them an easy and effective way of doing so,” said Bright Simons, founder of mPedigree. Here’s how the system works. Upstream at the pharmaceuticals plant, HP and mPedgree’s partners slap a scratch-off label containing a verification code. “We control the printing of the codes on the packet,” Paul Ellingstad, HP’s Global Health Director for Social Innovation, tells Fast Company. “It’s a tightly controlled and regulated printing process, protected at all stages.” Downstream at the pharmacy, the patient buys the medicine, scratches to receive the code, and texts it to verify the drug’s authenticity.

For you visual learners, HP broke it down in comic-strip form:

HP runs the hosting infrasctructure and the security systems for the service, out of its data centers in Frankfurt. Since mobile phones are extremely common in Nigeria and Ghana, and becoming more so everyday, the system reaches most people at risk. Bright Simons, whose mPedigree Network has integrated the many components of the plan, likes to speak of building “an infrastructure of trust.”


“It’s a free service,” says Gabi Zedlmayer, HP’s vice president of its Office of Global Social Innovation, funded largely by the pharmaceutical companies involved, including May & Baker Nigeria PLC. She adds that as a cloud-based system, it should be easily scalable. “At the end of the day, it’s all about saving people’s lives,” she says.

For more details on the service, check out the widget HP put together, below.

[Top image: Flickr user pinksherbet]

About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal.