Guardian: Fight the fakes: how to beat the $200bn medicine counterfeiters

6 June, 2019

"Most importantly, it’s informing and educating the public that can save lives, [Dr Bornmai] says. “Giving individuals more power, through education and the right information to choose the medication that isn’t harmful, is the most important thing that I want to see. It is a universal right to choose medicine that won’t harm you."

Extracts below. Full text here: https://amp.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/jun/05/fake-medicine...

Fight the fakes: how to beat the $200bn medicine counterfeiters

Armed with blockchain and AI, health workers and campaigners are battling the bogus business that kills thousands

Helen Lock @helenalexlock

Wed 5 Jun 2019 06.00 BST

By the time the teenage boy was standing in front of Bernice Bornmai, feverish and delirious, it was already too late.

It wasn’t just the malaria that was killing the 17-year-old, it was the time he’d wasted taking fake medicine. The antimalarials did nothing to stop the disease marching through the young Ghanaian’s body: his organs were already shutting down.

“He died waiting to be taken to a larger teaching hospital for dialysis,” Dr Bornmai told the Guardian, from the small hospital in Accra where she works as a senior medical officer. “It was one of my saddest cases, but I have lost other patients who would have survived because of fake medicines too.”

It’s not just ineffective malaria medication that can prove fatal. Bornmai’s patients have sometimes taken counterfeit antibiotics that not only don’t fight the illness but also increase bacterial resistance to effective medicines...

Genolet is a member of Fight the Fakes, a campaign group launched in 2010 to raise awareness of the problem among pharmacists and industry. One tool campaigners hope will have an impact is the harnessing of emerging technologies such as blockchain and artificial intelligence, which have the potential to help in dealing with the complexity of the task at hand...

The Nigerian start-up RxAll, for instance, has created a handheld scanner that can assess the compound of a drug in real time. The device connects to a cloud-based database of information of what the drugs should contain, which then feeds back that information.

“The information collected is a spectral signature of the drug, and once checked, the database sends back information to an app on your phone,” explains Adebayo Alonge, one of the co-founders. The vast information database is updated using an artificial intelligence algorithm...

It’s a personal cause for Alonge, who nearly died at the age of 15 after taking what turned out to be fake Ventolin for his asthma. The toxic tablets put him in a coma for 21 days, and it took six months for him to completely recover. That experience motivated him to train as a pharmacist himself before starting RxAll...

“Happily, from when we began to now, the prevalence of counterfeiting has dropped from the estimated 30% of the Nigerian pharmaceutical sector to less than 10% today,” Branttie says...

An estimated 116,000 people die from malaria from ineffective anti-malarial drugs in subSaharan Africa, according to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The WHO estimates that between 72,000 and 169,000 children may be dying each year from pneumonia due to “substandard and falsified antibiotics”.

But most importantly, it’s informing and educating the public that can save lives, [Dr Bornmai] says. “Giving individuals more power, through education and the right information to choose the medication that isn’t harmful, is the most important thing that I want to see. It is a universal right to choose medicine that won’t harm you.”

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Best wishes, Neil

Joint Coordinator HIFA Project on Information for Prescribers and Users of Medicines

http://www.hifa.org/projects/prescribers-and-users-medicines

Let's build a future where people are no longer dying for lack of healthcare information - Join HIFA: www.hifa.org

HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - www.hifa.org ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: facebook.com/HIFAdotORG neil@hifa.org