Ghanaian Company Wins Security Prize for Anti-Counterfeiting System

A Ghanaian tech company has won the Global Security Challenge with their proposals for systems designed to combat counterfeit drugs throughout West Africa.

The prize was awarded at the Global Security Challenge Summit, a meeting held at the University of London that marks the final round of an annual international competition. The challenge seeks to empower entrepreneurs in the fight for increased global security. The Ghanaian company, mPedigree, which won the challenge's Best Security Start-up award, will split a $500,000 prize with a security company from Australia, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The solution proposed by mPedigree in the fight against counterfeit drugs centers around the use of cell phones and text messaging. Under the mPedigree system, people purchasing drugs will be able to scratch off a panel on the medication's packaging to see a 10-digit verification code. This code can then be texted free of charge to a number that routes incoming text messages to servers in the United States, which can then compare the codes to lists provided by legitimate manufacturers. The servers then send a text message back to the patient either confirming or denying the authenticity of the drugs they are purchasing.

This solution promises to be successful because of its low cost and because it uses infrastructure and technology that already exist in the region.

The verification program has enjoyed success during trial runs carried out this past summer in Ghana and Nigeria, and other countries throughout Africa have asked to participate in the new system. Mobile service providers have agreed to cover the costs of the text messages, and the servers in the United States are reportedly provided courtesy of online retailer Amazon.

Some have raised concerns about how well African consumers will embrace or understand the program, but Bright Simons, developer of mPedigree's system, told the news source that the concerns are unfounded.

"African mobile users do not have contracts. They use top-up scratch cards, so people are very used to using scratch cards like this," he said. When asked whether illiteracy will prevent many people from understanding the system, he told the news source that "the message is repeated, so people get the same message so they very quickly learn what it means. Illiterate people have amazing memories, most people do not know that. And because it mimics how they top up their phone, they are used to it. We did pilots and this was not a problem."