Categorized | Social Entrepreneur

Providing Comprehensive Anti-Counterfeiting Strategies for Cash-Based Societies

Ashifi Gogo

Ashifi Gogo is Founder and CEO of Sproxil, a U.S.-based company that provides world-class brand protection in emerging markets through software and services that work anywhere there are mobile phones. A Six Sigma Black Belt Certified for Good Manufacturing Practice and Continuous Process Improvement, Gogo previously co-founded VSOL, a VoIP company that provides telephone services to the administration of a 24,000-student university in Ghana. The Clinton Foundation, GSVC Berkeley, Princeton Entrepreneurs’ Network, NCIIA Venture Well and Nokia have all acknowledged his work through a variety of prizes and fellowships. Gogo frequently presents at conferences including those organized by the U.S. Department of Commerce, The World Bank, Global Health Council, The African Network and the Corporate Council on Africa’s U.S.-Africa Business Summit.

Counterfeit Drug Market Rises in Africa

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), up to 30 percent of drugs sold in developing nations are counterfeit with the counterfeit drug market estimated at $200 billion by the World Customs Organization (WCO). In addition, up to 50 percent of some medicines in specific developing countries, including Ghana and Pakistan, are substandard. These substandard drugs – which do not have the correct potency of the legitimate drug – have led to a significant healthcare crisis both in terms of number of deaths (700,000 deaths from fake malaria and TB drugs alone) and increased drug resistance in treating diseases, which will become an issue in the longer term. In Ghana alone, local authorities working with the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) discovered fake and substandard versions of thirteen vital anti-malarial drugs spread across multiple locations in the country.

I grew up in Ghana, so it’s a problem near and dear to my heart. In addition to my work as a consultant with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, where I trained 100 customs officers from the Nigerian Customs Service in anti-counterfeiting techniques, I once assisted the Institute of Packaging (Ghana) in designing and providing a turnkey barcoding solution for asset tracking of a private library collection, which drastically improved inventory management at 10x cost savings to the library.

With my background and previous experiences, and the counterfeit drug market on the rise in Africa, I saw the need to develop a simple, efficient and cost-effective way for customers to verify the authenticity of medication prior to purchasing them. Given the prevalence of mobile technology throughout the world, it made sense to use a technology that was already in every customer’s pocket. That’s why Sproxil capitalizes on technologies that already exist and are readily accessible and easily understood by all levels of society – namely cellular phone SMS capabilities and scratch-off lottery-style labels. By doing so, we can provide a user-friendly solution to consumers that requires minimal education and training to use.

Making it Harder for Pharmaceutical Counterfeiters to Operate

A Featured Entrepreneur at the 2008 Venture Capital Forum and the inaugural recipient of the Thomas and Elizabeth Brady award for entrepreneurship in 2007, while attending the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College, my heart has always belonged to social entrepreneurship.

After funding initial efforts from a graduate student’s stipend (after deducting living expenses, etc.), in 2007, we also leveraged existing resources (free services, etc.) and obtained a $10,000 grant from the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U). We then got a $100,000 award from USAID and Western Union. Ultimately, we founded Sproxil in 2008 and incorporated it in 2009 with the mission to make it harder for pharmaceutical counterfeiters to operate.

Sproxil’s Mobile Product Authentication™ (MPA™) solution allows consumers to verify that the product they are buying is genuine by using a mobile phone and a simple, free text message. We use a scratch card method, similar to that used for replenishing cellular talk-time, to allow users to reveal a one-time-use code on drugs and text the code to a “911 for fake drugs” number which is identical on all cellular networks within a country. A response is dispatched from Sproxil’s servers, indicating whether the drug is genuine or fake. If a fake product is found, a consumer is given a hotline number to call in order to report the fake product. The hotline is a Sproxil call center that currently reports the fake product to the Nigerian Agency for Food, Drug and Administrative Control (NAFDAC) for further investigation. In other countries, the counterfeit product is reported to the appropriate authorities.

To date, we have already sold more than 5M anti-counterfeit labels in Nigeria and have set up the first national mobile-based anti-counterfeit service in Africa, beginning in Nigeria with a partnership with the NAFDAC. Our customers include both local companies as well as global pharmaceutical companies such as GSK and Johnson & Johnson. Our existing work won a CGI U Outstanding Commitment Award in 2009.

Positively Affecting the Lives of One Million People

It is estimated that more than 700,000 people die annually due to imitation malaria and TB medication alone. By using mobile phones, consumers and patients purchasing medication can text in simple numeric codes placed on the drugs to verify if a medicine is genuine. Based on our efforts validating medication in Africa so that consumers don’t buy fake products, we developed a means of allowing donors to track their donations to help increase transparency at the local level and prevent illegal diversion.

Through the Business Call to Action (BCtA) – a global leadership initiative made up of companies that apply their core business expertise to the achievement of the eight internationally-agreed Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by promoting sustainable solutions to development, last year we pledged to mobilize $4 million over the next two years to expand efforts to empower patients and consumers with mobile phones in the fight against counterfeit medication in India and Kenya.

In September 2010, we also presented our Commitment to Action, “Preventing the Diversion of Medical and Food Donations,” at the 6th annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative. Our approach focuses on bringing partners together to create additional value. We intend to work with donor agencies that have already implemented supply chain-based relief programs and are experiencing challenges due to diversion.

Our initial focus – which aims to positively affect the lives of one million people – will be on programs that deliver drug, medical commodity, and food relief to countries where mobile phone adoption is encouraging. Using our expertise in participatory product tracking – where consumers can use any cell phone to send a free text message with a code found on a product and get a response within a minute indicating whether the product has been diverted or not – we intend to to expand work with our new anti-diversion commitment in countries with large donation schemes such as India, Nigeria and South Africa.

Funding Our Mission to Fight Counterfeit Drugs

Just this past quarter, we received a $1.8 million Series A round of financing from Acumen Fund, a non-profit global venture fund addressing poverty in South Asia and East Africa. That investment will help us to build our sales teams in the U.S. and Nigeria, to begin expansion into India and Kenya and to provide further improvements to the technology behind our MPA solution. We have myriad employees, with offices on three continents, so the biggest challenge we’ve faced is confronting the heterogeneous business cultures across multiple continents.

Financing took several months, so I always recommended that entrepreneurs start early so they can pace themselves in the search for funding.

Leveraging Mobile Phone Technology to Empower Patients

Beginning this year, we are leveraging mobile phone technology to empower patients and beneficiaries to verify that they obtained genuine medication and give donors better tools for remote monitoring and evaluation. Our goal is to have products like Long Lasting Insecticidal Nets (LLINs) bear simple tags that end-users can use to confirm receipt of a donation with a basic cell phone, providing donors with a record that their relief efforts are bringing benefits to the right groups, not being funneled into accounts controlled by corrupt elements or criminals.

The increasing popularity of enhancing global health activities with private sector entrepreneurship signifies a shift in thinking among experts and practitioners. By wrapping our business model around providing purchase decision support to those with little, we believe they will save money and increase their well-being, driving local momentum for a global problem.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o02qm8bIQg8

Social media links:

www.twitter.com/sproxil
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sproxil/168408083214573

By Dr. Ashifi Gogo, CEO
Sproxil, Inc.
(314)827-4434
ashifi at sproxil.com

www.sproxil.com

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