Mobile app identifies approved medicines, drugstores

A member of staff checks a malaria medication
Copyright: Sven Torfinn/WHO/Panos

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  • One in ten medicines is substandard or falsified
  • Mobile app developed in Kenya is helping the country to fight this problem
  • But an expert says it requires the backing of drug manufacturers to succeed

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[NAIROBI] A mobile phone application for identifying approved medicines and drugstores is helping Kenya to fight counterfeit and substandard medicines.

According to the WHO, one in ten medical products is substandard or falsified and likely responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of children from diseases such as malaria and pneumonia every year, a situation that threatens the Sustainable Development Goals.

“Our application helps consumers avoid counterfeit medicine by verifying government- approved pharmaceutical premises and individual drug brands,” said Levit Nudi, the innovator of the mobile application known as Tambua, in an interview with SciDev.Net last week (4 March). Tambua is a Kiswahili word for identify.

According to Nudi, the app uses a barcode and location tracking technology to identify medicines throughout the supply chain, adding that the app could work with limited access to the internet, which makes it different from similar solutions on the market.

“Our application helps consumers avoid counterfeit medicine by verifying government- approved pharmaceutical premises and individual drug brands”

Levit Nudi

“Between February 2018 and September 2018, 5,000 verification results were of government approved premises and some of the verified drugs,” explains Nudi.  “With increasing number of successful verifications on our platform, we believe consumers are now able to make more informed decisions on what and where to buy medicine.”

Nudi and four others received US$5,000 each as winners of Champions of Science—Africa Storytelling Challenge from Johnson and Johnson last month (15 February) during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, DC, United States.

The innovation, he says, is being implemented in partnership with the Pharmacy and Poisons Board of Kenya and Cosmos Pharmaceutical Company, a local drug manufacturer in Kenya with production capacity of close to seven million drugs per year.

“Champions of Science award has increased our innovation's visibility, making it an ideal moment to increase the scope of our partnerships and our presence across the continent,” he tells SciDev.Net. “We hope to solve the same problem for Johnson & Johnson, which prioritises quality of all their products.”

But Paul Mugambi, a telecommunications engineer with Kenya-based Baobab Circle, says that although the innovation offers a good way of dealing with fake drugs, it can only work best if drug manufacturers embrace it.

“It can only perform well if drug manufacturers accept to work with the developer, something many of them are not embracing at the moment,” he tells SciDev.Net.

According to Mugambi, for the app to achieve its objective, it will require changing systems in drug manufacturing companies and in a secure way give a one-time code on every drug to the app developer.

“Because of that, scaling up this technology can be a serious challenge,” he adds.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.