UPPER MARLBORO, Maryland — It was not every day that then medical student Arnaud Pourredon shifted through dozens of boxes in search of medications to aid survivors of Nepal’s earthquake. Yet, in 2015, he did exactly that, searching high and low for authentic medicines until he could find a solution for the pains many Nepalis felt. However, what he found was startling. Drugs, ranging from over-the-counter to prescribed, were adulterated and falsely manufactured. Unfortunately, this issue is not uncommon in many developing countries where one of every 10 drugs in circulation is counterfeit or substandard. African market accounts for 42% of all fake drugs and over 250,000 annual deaths come from their usage.
When Pourredon went to Nepal, the goal was simple: help those who one of the world’s deadliest earthquakes affected and provide relief. Things changed as his stay progressed— his mission becoming more of a duty than one out of the kindness of his wellbred heart— and when he left, he did with a different plan in mind. While visiting Ivory Coast, he expressed his desire to create a software application that would be able to track the locations of medicines as well as their authenticity to potential users of anti-counterfeit medicine technology and various Ivorian professionals. The idea was well received and from there, Meditect began its journey.
What is Meditect?
The name is a play on words, highlighting the app’s ability to detect counterfeit medicines and discover authentic ones. Meditect is an anti-counterfeit medicine technology that aims to increase access to quality medications and reduce the production and purchasing of counterfeit drugs. It is a social solution that is available for free download on any mobile device. Currently, Meditect has locations in three French-speaking countries including Senegal, Ivory Coast and Cameroon and is partnered with 200 pharmacies and 1,200 pharmacists, attracting roughly 300,000 monthly visitors to its app, Pourredon explained in an interview with The Borgen Project.
How Does It Work?
High prices of medicines help boost the prominence of counterfeits as they can discourage patients from buying authentic medication. This often results in a patient having to choose between quality or cost. With Meditect, users can opt for both. The traceability solutions Meditect offers allow users to verify the authenticity of their medications and locate one at a price affordable to them.
In sub-Sahran Africa, there are typically fewer legal pharmacies than local vendors and private resellers which are often the primary source offering to sell medicines. In Nigeria, they are known as Patent and Proprietary Medicine Vendors (PPMVs), where many of the drugs are fake and of low quality. At PPMVs, the merchant can be anyone from a child, street pharmacist or people lacking formal training and expertise in the areas of pharmaceuticals.
The exception, however, is in French-speaking Africa where four wholesale companies control drug production and administration, Pourredon explained. Pharmacies registered in the pharmacy council database partner with Meditect, where they share data. Meditect then takes the information they receive from pharmacies and digitizes it, making it accessible to patients and users of the app. Through this, they can identify nearby pharmacies that have medicines available to them. Users can also scan the boxes of their medicines to ensure they are not fraudulent. Meditect gives each medicine coming from a partnered pharmacy an individualized code that will trace back to a legal pharmacy and/or drug manufacturer. The use of a data matrix allows for the making of these codes.
Implementing Blockchain Technology
Blockchain technology is one of the most secure technologies and roughly 90% of the world’s top businesses utilize it. It interlocks data, configures them into “blocks” and joins them together in a chain-like manner. This allows users of blockchain technology to access information from varying databases in the same system without manually inputting anything. Meditect uses blockchain technology in their database to create a visible network of pharmacies and pharmaceutical products, detect and alert users of counterfeit medicines.
Authentic Medications For All
Where roughly 52% of the population lacks access to health care and is unable to pay for their needed medicines is a means to provide access to more affordable products. But, in order to do so, pharmacies need to occupy a digital setting to get a better understanding of their users, CEO and co-founder of Meditect Pourredon says. He also explained that “if we really want to improve access to medicines, we have to consider that we should increase the number of drugs in the legal circuit.” Meaning that authentic medicines should be readily available for use, regardless of a patient’s financial background.
Counterfeit, falsified and adulterated drug products are all illegal and illicit, yet, they account for upwards of 70% of all drugs made available in some Sub-Saharan African countries. In Ivory Coast, barely 30% of the drugs in circulation are legal.
Since its start in 2018, Meditect has increased product availability by 20% and created Pharmacy Management software for Meditect’s pharmaceutical partners, Pourredon explains. This allows pharmacists to monitor how many drugs they have left, the number of drugs in their prospective markets as well as their prices. They access this platform through a specialized pin code from Meditect. Users of the app do not have to pay a fee to access any of the website’s platforms.
Digitizing anti-counterfeit medicine technology is another way to promote trust in Africa, Pourredon states that “…to bring transparency, we have to digitize people.”
Meditect in The Future
Later in the year, Meditect seeks to create a drug repository to repurpose medicines that have not been used. Meditect recently received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in support of their accessibility efforts. They hope to further the digitization of anti-counterfeit medicine technology and provide assistance to many other countries in order to make counterfeit drugs less of a reality.
– Dorothy Quanteh
Photo: Wikipedia Commons