Partnership takes aim at counterfeit drugs with text-based solution

Orange Healthcare, the health division of French telecommunications company France-Telecom Orange, has declared war on the global problem of counterfeit medicines with a text-based platform that authenticates drugs digitally, according to a company website posting. The lives of thousands of people who die annually from counterfeit medicines--which are often toxic, under-dosed or contain no active substance whatsoever--could be saved with this simple and accessible solution.

Working with mPedigree, a pan-African organization partnered in the telecom, pharmaceutical and computing industries, Orange Healthcare's SMS-based solution is part of its e-health product offering in African countries, where up to 25 percent of drugs are potentially affected and 50 percent of Africans have access to a mobile phone. mPedigree claims that pharmaceutical counterfeiting kills nearly one million people annually and maims countless more, while costing legitimate drug companies more than $200 million daily.

The SMS-based solution includes a unique verification code, which is hidden behind a scratchable surface layer, on each packet or bottle of medicine. Patients then can submit the code via text message in order to automatically check the authenticity of the drug against a database.

According to Orange, each request is free with the cost of the text messages covered by the pharmaceutical laboratories, taking only a few minutes to verify that the product in question is authentic. If it is a counterfeit medicine, the telephone number for the producer laboratory is provided so that the fraud can be reported.

Orange Healthcare provides telecom support for service in African markets, including Kenya, where the government is implementing a health policy aimed at tackling the problem of counterfeiting across the country. The problem is not confined to Africa, however; in France and other industrialized nations, the World Health Organization estimates that approximately 50 percent of medicines sold over the Internet are falsified or counterfeit.

The problem is creating opportunities for some companies. Pharmaceutical anti-counterfeiting technology will be a $1.2 billion worldwide market by 2015, according to a report published in October by London-based independent media company Visiongain. The introduction of industry-wide standards enforcing mandatory supply chain track-and-trace technologies will be a catalyst for the growth.

To learn more:
- read the Orange Healthcare posting