Sproxil deal offers free mobile drug authentication in 17 African countries

By: Neil Versel | Aug 29, 2012        

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SproxilSMS-based pharmaceutical authentication service Sproxil has signed a deal with Indian telecommunications company Bharti Airtel for the latter to offer its subscribers in 17 African countries free texting for drug verification.

“Our goal is to bring affordable and easily accessible health services to over 450 million people,” Andre Beyers, Airtel’s chief marketing officer for Africa, says in a Sproxil press release, referring to the total population of the 17 countries. Airtel claims 257 million customers in 20 African and Asian nations. “The battle against counterfeit drugs is a huge step towards the goal,” Beyers adds.

Sproxil’s Mobile Product Authentication service includes a scratch-off label affixed to drug packaging. Consumers scratch off the label to reveal a unique code when they buy a medication or pick up a prescription, then text the code to a Sproxil SMS short code. A return text message reports whether the drug is real or counterfeit.

Meanwhile, competitor PharmaSecure this week introduced a free app for Android smartphones and tablets that scans authenticating labels so users don’t have to type in the codes.

A story in Developing Telecoms says counterfeiting is a greater issue in developing countries than in the West. The publication cited a recent study in the journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases that reportedly found that a third of anti-malarial drugs sold in Southeast Asia were counterfeit. The Airtel deal opens up Sproxil’s anti-counterfeiting effort to consumers in Burkina Faso, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Madagascar, Niger, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

“By working with Airtel, we can get short codes in various countries’ different markets from just one company, streamlining the process and ‘turbo charging’ our expansion throughout the region,” Sproxil CEO Dr. Ashifi Gogo says in the company statement. “For the consumers it’s a win-win – two advanced technologies working together.”

Cambridge, Mass.-based Sproxil already operates in Ghana and Kenya – two of Airtel’s markets – and Nigeria. Sproxil also has offered its service in India since June 2011.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton praised the Mobile Product Authentication service as a “truly remarkable achievement” during a 2010 speech. PharmaSecure has caught the attention of other global figures, notably landing a $3.9 million investment from an investment company headed by ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt.