Nigerian startups use apps to counter fake drugs

At a Biofem facility in Lagos, chief executive Femi Soremekun shows how you can check these pharmaceuticals are the real deal.

Via a barcode and a phone, he can authenticate the drugs.

And that's important in Nigeria where the prevalence of fake medicines is higher than the global average of 10%.

In 2009 Biofem had their anti-diabetic prescription drug glycophage counterfeited in the market - causing a decline in revenue.

"After the experience we had and we were able to mitigate that experience using the technology, we decided that all our products would have it, so that we do not wait when it is counterfeited before we protect the patient which is primary."

To fight a flood of fake pills, Nigeria's National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control has partnered with startups to create stickers with unique codes.

Manufacturers and distributors attach them to boxes and sachets of drugs; consumers use apps to scan and confirm authenticity.

One such app has been developed by Chekkit Technologies.

Founder Dare Odumade says incentives are used to encourage the consumer.

"So when the customer sees the sticker he has the idea that he stands a chance of winning something, that can basically divert them towards authenticating that product and we have seen that work for us. Over 60 percent of our labels get authenticated in the market."

4.8 billion U.S. dollars worth of fake drugs have been seized by the NAFDAC in the past three years, says its director of investigation and enforcement Kingsley Ejiofor.

But he said the use of apps is boosting confidence in the pharmaceuticals sector.

"The technology has really helped."

He added that 200 containers of counterfeit medicine are currently at ports scheduled for destruction, and that the major sources of the fake drugs were China and India.

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