About 1 million people die each year from taking fake medications, according to the World Health Organization. This is a problem faced, above all, by developing countries, where ensuring the distribution of authorized drugs is very complicated. In Africa, for example, there is no single code to identify genuine medicines. In the European Union, a regulation to prevent the consumption of counterfeit medicines came into existence as of February 2019. This will also benefit Africa, as most of the drugs used on this continent come from Europe.
In addition to regulations, technology could also help solve this problem. One such solution has been created by French physician and biotechnologist, Arnaud Pourredon. After volunteering in Nepal, he realized the magnitude of the problem and decided to set up Meditect, a platform aimed at pharmaceutical companies that export drugs to Africa and that offer a tracking and authentication service for drugs throughout the distribution chain. Thanks to this proposal, Pourredon has become one of the winners of Innovators Under 35 Europe from MIT Technology Review.
To guarantee the authenticity of each drug box along the supply chain, Meditect employs a blockchain technology, which is already available in open source under a license from MIT, USA. As Pourredon explains, his service is different from the others because "this chain brings together all the actors involved in the supply process; from pharmaceutical companies to logistics, through governments, regulators, security forces, and patients."
In addition to creating the technology, the innovator makes this information available to pharmacists and patients through two free apps. According to Deloitte's TMT Prédictions Afrique study, 83% of middle-class people in West Africa have a smartphone. For this reason, the innovator considers that "verifying the drugs through the smartphone is a great opportunity."
Pharmacists can do this through Meditect Pro App, where they only have to scan the serial number of the drugs to certify their inventory. Pourredon explains, "We are in the process of integrating pharmacies to teach them how to use our solution," and adds that the app is gammatized to encourage its use. In addition, it also provides up-to-date news on industry regulation.
For patients, the young man has developed the Meditect Patient App. When a user scans a code, the app sends a notification about the authenticity of the medication or alerts them if there is a risk. It also provides additional information such as the drug leaflet, expiration date, and a map with useful information about the pharmacies located around the user.
At the moment, the service is only available in Ivory Coast, where it is being used in 100 pharmacies across the country's five largest cities. In total, it has already insured more than one million medications. In addition, thanks to an agreement with a local telecommunications operator, Meditect rewards patients who purchase authentic medicines via free Internet connections.
By 2020, Pourredon has already signed agreements with several pharmaceutical companies to bring Meditect to Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, and Burkina Faso. Meanwhile, his long-term idea is that by 2022 the technology will be available in more than 25 African countries and used by more than three million patients.
Professor and Vice-Dean of the College of Economic Analysis at the Warsaw School of Economics (Poland) and member of Innovators Under 35 jury, Beata Czarnacka-Chrobot, says that "Meditect solves very important problems in a very intelligent way." She believes that technology "can save millions of lives" and adds that the innovator stands out "for his humanitarian activities and his youth."
By Alba Casilda
Translation: Brian Bostwick