Gogo in a hurry to beat bogus drugs
Ashifi Gogo has invented a text message verification process to thwart the distributors of counterfeit drugs in developing states
The product was made a requirement for some of the most counterfeited drugs on the Nigerian market and is also endorsed by authorities in Kenya as the mark of quality for certain types of agrochemical.
Gogo says that the problem in many of the emerging markets Sproxil targets is lack of regulation and weak law enforcement. “The supply chain for pharmaceuticals is extremely fragmented,” he says. “Any ‘mom and pop’ type outfit can borrow a pharmacy licence and set up shop. There are no huge chains but lots of family-owned shops and selling off the back of carts.” He says that there are more shopkeepers than true pharmacists – people out to make a profit rather than those who genuinely care about the health of the customer.
Sproxil’s technology has implications for non-pharma industries too. Manufacturers and suppliers of agrochemicals have become interested in how the SMS system can deal with counterfeit fertilisers and seeds. The system is also being used in the automotive industry against the counterfeiting of brake-pads and surprisingly the company is currently in negotiation with a global underwear company to combat counterfeit lingerie sales.
“We have a client in Kenya who loses $3 million per year due to fake electrical cables which can cause house fires,” says Gogo. “There is an estimated $600 billion of counterfeit goods sold every year out of which a third every year is in pharmaceuticals. $200 billion is a lot of money.” There is also the possibility to use the scratch-and-text SMS model to engage with customers, not just for health reasons but for marketing and loyalty programmes. “Prior to Sproxil there has been no way for these large companies to connect with their consumers in a scalable way at an affordable price,” says Gogo.
Human health policy
Gogo says that one of the main challenges for start-ups in emerging markets is the perception of risk by investors. “Start-ups have to keep costs down, invest the little that they have and as quickly as possible start generating revenue with customers. Customer revenue is essential not only to validate your business model and attract more investors later on but to keep the lights on in the early days,” he says.
The potential to really impact on human health policy is, he says, one of the very positive aspects innovative businesses can have in emerging markets with the support of government and accelerator programs such as HealthXL.
“Companies like Claimsync [HealthXL finalists from Ghana who have developed software to help automate patients’ records and process them electronically] are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to digital health in Africa, ” he says. “Our firsthand experience has been that if companies can innovate and fill market and societal need, they have the ability to influence policy and government action in a way that is swifter than in developed markets.”