20 June 2008

Ghana: Country to Use SMS to Fight Fake Drugs

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that more than 30% of drugs could lead to the horrid healthcare crises that fake drugs often unleash. The rate of fake drugs is between 10 to 30% in developing countries.

As Ghana explores ways to enhance the adoption of technology and new concepts of regulating drugs to enhance health service delivery, Ghanaians could be able to successfully use SMS text messages to authenticate drugs by the end of this year.

The technology trial initiative by mPedigree, early this year afforded Ghanaian consumers in Accra and Kumasi the chance to pick the code on a drug, (Efpack Junior Products ) by sending SMS to 1393 to any of the networks and had responses instantly that quality was assured.

According to Mr. Ashifi Gogo, Technology Consultant of mPedigree, the text message is free and can be sent by consumers who do not even have credit on their mobile phones.

Launched in 2007, mPedigree the initiative actively engages stakeholders in developing nations towards safer drugs via a combination of stepped up enforcement and carefully crafted technology.

mPedigree, seeks to build a system first in Ghana, and then throughout Africa, that tracks drugs from their original producers all the way to the pharmacy shelves, allowing each buyer in the chain to ensure that they're dealing with a legitimate product.

Speaking at the maiden stakeholder symposium in Accra, named "Innovation for Health Governance", collaboration between the Ministry of Health and its partners, Mr. Gogo explained that the large scale trial will include more stakeholders.

He assured that fake drug manufacturers cannot duplicate codes because each code works only once. He recalled that since it was a fresh service, trial survey agents were stationed to provide assistance in the authentication process when needed.

The Executive Director of the Ghana Food and Drugs Board, Mr. Emmanuel Agyarko described the text message innovation as timely to combat counterfeit drugs.

He noted that now counterfeiting is becoming a huge criminal industry because it is not only medicine but anything of value is counterfeited.

Mr Agyarko said drug and arms cartels among others are eventually moving from such risky ventures to counterfeiting because punishment when caught is not so intense.

He regretted that counterfeiting has become a biggest challenge to Ghana as consumers are not engaging enough.

"It is our collective efforts that will counter counterfeiting because there is not a single solution to the problem."

He announced that the FDB will together with stakeholders hold a national dialogue on counterfeiting as it needs to be brought into perspective.

Organizers of the stakeholders' symposium say that in order to allow for critical and practice oriented dialogue and discussion, it will be organised around case studies.

This year, apart from mPedigree, One Global Standard (GS1), a global standards regime in supply chain management will look at how global standards may be successfully adopted into local health contexts towards greater efficiency.

Also, Ghana is a pilot country for the roll-out of Medical Transparency Alliance (MeTA) programme with an objective to relief consumers of the burden of drug affordability, accessibility and quality.

Further, the National Health Insurance Authority has identified a number of ICT interventions such as diagnostic groups modeling, as critical in its quest to deliver. The symposium will consider what metrics would be appropriate in measuring goal appropriateness.

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