A Pakistani startup is trying to banish fake prescription drugs

Kinza Waseem, a doctor at the Combined Military Hospital in Karachi, Pakistan, often sees patients who’ve unknowingly taken counterfeit drugs instead of doctor-prescribed medication that’s supposed to help them.

“People will complain about not getting any relief, even after taking medication for a long period of time,” she told me in an interview. The patient might begin shivering, feeling tight-chested or short of breath, indicating they’re having an unexpected allergic reaction to the correct medicine once they receive it. That means they were previously taking the wrong formula, without realizing.

Capture d’écran 2016-04-27 à 13.42.20.pngEach year, millions of Pakistanis spend money on drugs they need—painkillers, Viagra, heart medication or diabetes pills. What they don’t realize is that they’re often buying fakes laced with dangerous substances like rat poison, paint, and tar. Illegal drug sellers are getting rich off the black market, which by some estimates is more profitable than heroin, and unsuspecting people are dying.

In 2013, Saim Siddiqui, who grew up in Pakistan and was living in Toronto at that time, took a weekend trip to Boston to participate in Pakathon—a hackathon aimed at creating technologies to address some of Pakistan’s most pressing problems. He came up with a way to combat the longstanding issue of counterfeit drugs, and his solution netted him first prize. He packed up and headed for Karachi.

His Karachi-based company, ProCheck, now offers the service he envisioned, allowing anyone with a cell phone to verify the authenticity of a drug.

The idea is simple: text the code printed on the medication packet to ProCheck’s number,

and get an almost instant response on whether the pill is real or fake.

Since the company’s launch, in June 2015, it has authenticated over 2 million medications, and that number is about to grow much, much larger. In May, ProCheck launches a new partnership with Ferozsons Laboratories Ltd., a major drug company in Pakistan, to mark as many as 35 million units of medicine, including pills for hypertension, diabetes and heart disease, using its codes.

It’s a free service to users, with drug companies fronting most of the expenses. But what many people might not realize is that these drug companies benefit, too—collecting valuable personal data on “patient compliance,” for example, from those who sign up.

In a country like Pakistan, where some reports have estimated that as many as 50 % of all drugs are fake or of shoddy quality, it’s a trade-off that countless would be willing to make.

SOURCE: Mother Boards

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