Pfizer, Vodafone and Sproxil Join Efforts to Reduce Fake Drugs and Improve Healthcare in Africa

In New York on September 21, 2010, Ponni Subbiah, MD, MPH, Vice President, Pfizer Global Access, announced a joint commitment with Vodafone, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in The Gambia and International Health Partners, to support the “SMS for Health” initiative, aimed at improving access and reliability of medicine supply using mobile phone technology.

The program is part of the United Nations Development Programme’s Business Call to Action, 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.

Using real-time information collected via mobile phones, SMS for Health will track medication stock levels and expiry dates and help capture trend information that can be used to predict the seasonal variation in the rate of disease. SMS for Health is currently being piloted in The Gambia.

“We’ve realized that one of the most important ways Pfizer can help improve sustainable healthcare access for underserved populations in emerging markets is through innovative business initiatives that are affordable and commercially viable,” said Jean-Michel Halfon, President and General Manager of Pfizer’s Emerging Markets Business Unit.

“Mobile technology has the potential to dramatically improve the provision of health care across the world but particularly, perhaps, in emerging economies where there is little established health infrastructure. The trick for healthcare providers is to identify the best way to maximize the opportunity. SMS for Health uses technology in an innovative way,” said Vodafone Group’s Head of Mobile Health Joaquim Croca.

As part of the initiative Sproxil pledged $4 million over the next two years to expand the use of the popular texting anti-counterfeiting technology in India and Kenya.

This technology allows anyone with a mobile phone to determine whether the medication they are about to take is authentic. The packaging of each drug has a number on it, which consumers text to government agencies. The agencies use that number to confirm the medication’s authenticity and then relay that information to the drug taker.

It is estimated that over 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. In Nigeria, Sproxil’s codes have already been used on over 1.4 million blister packs with thousands of users signing up every month.