The Partnership for Safe Medicines
Weekly Update March 22, 2010
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Nigeria Using SMS to Thwart Counterfeit Drugs

Nigeria's National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has launched a text messaging service that can verify whether a drug is counterfeit or the real thing.

The Mobile Authentication Service (MAS) allows anyone in Nigeria to check the authenticity of their medicines.

How it works: A card attached to each medicine pack reveals a unique 12-digit code when scratched with a coin. Patients simply text the code to the MAS and will instantly receive notification confirming the authenticity of the product.

MAS is a free service, so patients can use any mobile phone to check the status of their medication. SecuringPharma notes that the mobile phone penetration is among the highest in Africa, at more than 80 percent, making the system highly accessible to the public.

The project is still in the pilot phase and is being tested using the diabetes medication Glucophage (metformin). Reporting on the MAS system, SecuringPharma said that "once scaled up to include a broader array of medicines, the hope is that-in addition to reducing the risk of counterfeit medicines harming patients-the MAS verification will help identify the distribution channels for fakes," effectively helping to disrupt the counterfeit drug trade.

"NAFDAC's use of SMS is a wonderful example of how technology can be used to protect patients and thwart illicit drug channels," said PSM's Vice President Bryan Liang, MD, PhD, JD. "In fact, SMS is one of the recommendations we relayed to the U.S. FDA last month-it's also an excellent method by which to reach healthcare providers and affected patients about drug recalls and counterfeit warnings."

Combating counterfeits in Africa is also an initiative in which PSM has been involved.

In 2008, PSM was part of an anti-counterfeit drug forum in Western Africa where government officials, business leaders and non-profit organizations gathered to discuss strategy and techniques for relieving the region of illicit medicines. PSM staff had the pleasure of working with Ashifi Gogo at the forum, who went on to develop the MAS system-and demonstrated that collaboration at the international level really can help us move forward on this issue.

To learn more about NAFDAC's new SMS system, see the MAS Frequently Asked Questions handout.
Top News

Counterfeit Drugs Play Significant Role in Increase of Deadly, Drug Resistant TB


An estimated 440,000 people had multi-drug resistant tuberculosis in 2008 and a third of them died as the new variant of the TB mycobacterium continues to spread, the World Health Organization said Thursday. This resistant strain is most commonly caused by failure to complete the normal six-month course of treatment or the use of substandard or counterfeit drugs. Nearly half of the cases were in China and India, which have been hit hardest by the outbreak. But in some areas of the world, especially three provinces in Russia, more than one in every four cases of tuberculosis are the result of the hard-to-treat strain, according to the report. ("Drug-Resistant TB at Record Levels Worldwide, the WHO Says, Los Angeles Times, March 18; 2010; Story here)

World News

US: Stolen Drugs Present Problems for Law Enforcement and Consumers


A $75 million heist at a pharmaceutical warehouse in Connecticut this week exemplifies a growing phenomenon: Thieves are stealing large quantities of prescription drugs for black market resale. Authorities say the thieves cut a hole in the roof, lowered themselves into the building on ropes, disabled the alarm system and stole enough drugs to fill a tractor-trailer. The stolen pharmaceuticals included best-selling antidepressants Prozac and Cymbalta. In the wake of such incidents, consumers are advised to be cautious and educate themselves about where their prescription drugs come from. ("Prescription-drug Heists on the Rise," Associated Press, March 17, 2010; Story here)



Nigeria: Counterfeit Drugs and Corruption Hamper Development


More than 50 percent of drugs sold in drugstores in Nigeria in the 1990s were counterfeit, the World Bank said in a report. In its Africa Development Indicators 2010 report, released this weekend, the bank said corruption is undermining development in Africa, including Nigeria. Corruption is pervasive and widespread across Africa and is having a disproportionate effect on the poor, with long-term consequences for development, according to the report. ("Nigeria: World Bank - Over 50 Percent Drugs Sold in Country in 1990s Fake, All Africa, March 15, 2010; Story here)



India: Substandard and Counterfeit Drugs Burden Officials and are a Threat to Consumers


A day after The Times of India reported on substandard disinfectants making their way into the state healthcare network, senior officials revealed the influx as a mere tip of the iceberg. At least one third of all cases filed in Tamil Nadu, India, involve substandard or counterfeit drugs. Since April 2009, over 60 cases have been filed by the Tamil Nadu directorate for substandard and counterfeit drug violations. This influx not only puts millions of consumers at risk but also places a major burden on law enforcement and the justice system. ("Over 60 Fake Drug Cases in TN in 1 Year, Times of India, March 12, 2010; Story here)


About the Partnership for Safe Medicines
The Partnership for Safe Medicines is a group of organizations and individuals that have policies, procedures, or programs to protect consumers from counterfeit or contraband medicines. For more information, please visit