WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana — The spread of counterfeit and substandard medications is an urgent health crisis plaguing the health care system of many countries across sub-Saharan Africa. In 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that one in 10 of all medical products circulating in developing nations are either fake or substandard and 42% of the reports originated from WHO African Regions. DrugStoc is a health care technology company using a secure mobile app platform to combat counterfeit medication. By creating a transparent and trackable supply chain designed to prevent mixing in fake medicine, DrugStoc is providing a potential solution to the endemic of counterfeit medications in sub-Saharan Africa.
Counterfeit Medication Crisis in Africa
Due to widespread poverty, social instability and a fragile healthcare system, sub-Saharan Africa is disproportionately vulnerable to infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and ebola. Approximately 95% of all malaria-related deaths in 2020 occurred in WHO African Regions, with young children and pregnant women being the most vulnerable population due to their weak immunity. Similarly, the number of Africans with HIV was 25.7 million in 2018, which accounted for almost two-thirds of all HIV infections in the world.
However, despite the region’s high demand for medical supplies, sub-Saharan Africa’s pharmaceutical industry does not have a sufficient level of development to reliably provide for domestic health care needs. As a whole, Africa accounts for merely 3% of total global medicine production and African nations depend heavily on imported medicine to supply their health care system. In general, Africa imports over 80% of medical products.
This made counterfeit medications a lucrative business opportunity for organized criminal groups and corrupt law enforcement officials, which only worsened after the global COVID-19 pandemic. The subsequent spike in demand for medical supplies not only slowed down the supply chain for existing medications but also led to the spread of new counterfeit medical supplies such as fake COVID-19 vaccines and face masks.
The impact of counterfeit medication on Africans is severe. According to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), authorities confiscated over 600 tons of counterfeit medicine between 2017 and 2021 and up to 267,000 deaths per year are due to counterfeit and substandard malaria medications. In addition to the heavy cost of human lives, counterfeit medication is also harming the confidence Africans have in their health care providers.
DrugStoc Brings a Solution to the Table
DrugStoc is a Nigeria-based health care technology startup founded in 2016 that aims to tackle rampant counterfeit medications by providing a reliable, transparent supply chain for health care providers. It prevents contamination of their supply chain by making it transparent and end-to-end traceable, which leaves no room for criminals to get involved during the import and distribution process. The startup also offers the accessibility of a mobile app and the convenience of 24/7 delivery services to health care providers. In addition, DrugStoc is also partnering with pharmaceutical companies to help them access the growing African market while reducing the risk of counterfeit medication trafficking.
The success of DrugStoc suggests that using health care technology can help fight the counterfeit medication crisis in sub-Saharan Africa. Africa’s IT and digital market is rapidly growing. The number of individuals using the Internet and subscribing to mobile phone services is growing exponentially. DrugStoc is an inspiring example of how technology can help address pressing health care challenges in sub-Saharan Africa.
– Junoh Seo