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January 26, 2009

Nokia backs young entrepreneur combating pharmaceutical fraud with mobile phones

GLOBAL – One of the most rewarding aspects of being a writer on Conversations is that we get to bring you the smaller stories that often slip through the cracks of the main stage – worthy tales of the unsung heroes working both within Nokia and outside, with Nokia’s support. YouthActionNet is one such example, a program set up to support young social entrepreneurs with innovative ideas for social and sustainable projects across the globe. Backed by Nokia, already a number of interesting stories have emerged, including support for one young person looking to combat pharmaceutical fraud in Africa via a phone-based drug authentication system.

Bright Simons is 27 years old, and hails from Accra, Ghana. His idea is to combat rising rates of pharmaceutical fraud in Africa through developing a mobile phone-based drug authentication system – an idea sparked as a result of seeing shocking figures from an Interpol survey of major pharmacies in Lagos, Nigeria, that found 80 percent of the medicines on sale were fakes. With the World Health Organization suggesting that a quarter of all medicines sold in the developing world are fakes.

“The issue of counterfeit medication casts a shadow over many developing nations, due to lack of an economicallyaccessible, technically-feasible system to assist consumers and regulators in distinguishing between fake and genuine drugs.”

Bright’s reaction was to develop an SMS based service with an ingenious authentication twist, called mPedigree. The idea is extremely simple, sustainable and socially significant. When you buy a prescription drug it comes with a scratch panel on the packaging, that when scraped off reveals an eight digit number. You then create an SMS on your phone and send to a simple four digit code (1393), and soon after you receive a message telling you if the prescription drug is genuine or a fake. The text message is free and paid for by the drug manufacturer.

mPedigree was successfully tested in a pilot scheme with locally manufactured drugs in March 2008 with over 2,000 participants who were later interviewed. Bright says:

““The initial evidence is that people are ready to jump on as long as the service is free”

The next goal is to get international drug manufacturers involved. We reckon it’s a fantastic approach. What do you think?

Click here to read more about Bright Simons and the other stories of YouthActionNet fellows being supported by Nokia.

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