SPROXIL USING SMS TO BATTLE COUNTERFEIT DRUGS
This post is part of a series about mobile health, or mHealth -- a shorthand term for the practice of medicine and public health supported by mobile devices. We’ve dubbed similar efforts in the malaria space as mMalaria, and our Director of Policy & Advocacy, Hannah Bowen, is providing a deeper look into what mobile is doing to spur the malaria fight.
When most Americans walk up to a pharmacy counter, they may worry about how long they’ll have to wait in line or whether their insurance will cover the prescription, but they typically don’t worry about whether the medicine the pharmacist hands them will be a dangerous counterfeit drug. Unfortunately, that fear is top-of-mind for many consumers around the world. Governments and donors are combatting the potential spread of fake or stolen antimalarial drugs through strengthened supply chains, continuous oversight, and targeted investigations, but there is also a need for strategies that reach directly to consumers. And as we’ve seen with other mHealth strategies, mobile phones are one of the best ways to make that direct connection.
It’s no surprise, then, that entrepreneurs with a deep understanding of mobile technology and pharmaceutical supply chains have found a way to use phones to protect consumers from fake or stolen antimalarial drugs. One company, Sproxil, provides an SMS-based “Mobile Product Authentication” (MPA) service, which has already set consumers’ minds at ease over 7 million times since it was launched in Nigeria with a focus on antimalarial and antibiotic drugs. The product has since expanded to 6 countries and 3 continents.
How Sproxil MPA Works. Each packet of medicine has a unique, single-use numerical code, hidden under a scratch-off label—like a lottery ticket or the cards people across Africa use to put credit on mobile phones. Prior to purchase, a consumer can scratch off this code and send a free text message to the short code on their medicine to instantly verify if the medicine is legitimate or not. (The short code in Nigeria is 38353 – and it’s free for consumers.) Sproxil also has a mobile app and a global international number that can be used anywhere in the world!
Sproxil’s technology boosts consumer confidence in the quality and legitimacy of antimalarials, but the best part is authorities can then tell where a fake batch of drugs has entered the market, when there is a spike in activity, or where there may be a malaria outbreak. Authorities can also locate and trace stolen goods or illegally diverted medication, and add transparency to supply chains and aid distribution.
What we’ve learned from Sproxil. At MNM, we’re always on the lookout for innovative solutions. What we love about Sproxil is the way they created a direct connection between manufacturers/NGOs and consumers, and utilized the one platform that everyone has access to, even in areas where there is no electricity or running water: mobile technology. Their system empowers consumers to protect themselves, especially in places where their options for recourse are limited and protection from ill-advised purchases is non-existent. And when consumers receive Sproxil’s authentication text message, they may be inclined to learn more about health from their phones, for example through health education services like MNM’s mZinduka! service in Tanzania.
Check out the previous posts in our mMalaria series here.