Dr. Ashifi Gogo
Chief Executive Officer, Sproxil Inc,(the parent company of Sproxil Nigeria Limited), Dr. Ashifi Gogo, whose firm is partnering the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) in the fight against counterfeiting in the nation’s pharmaceutical industry in this interview with Festus Akanbi says product faking is a global phenomenon. He also discusses the extent of the collaboration between his organisation and NAFDAC
Why did Sproxil make Nigeria a focus of its activities and which other countries are benefiting from this technology-driven service?
It is well known that Nigeria has a large and vibrant market. Unfortunately it also has a significant counterfeiting issue. We felt if we could work with Nigerians to resolve this problem, then other markets would follow Nigeria’s lead. As well as our presence here, we also operate in Kenya and Ghana. Outside of Africa we are in India.
How bad is the Nigerian situation as far as the problem of counterfeiting of pharmaceuticals is concerned?
Counterfeiting is a global phenomenon, and many countries are plagued with counterfeit products. Nigeria is no exception to this, sadly, and many industries are suffering from fake products - from pharmaceuticals to consumer products and electronics. This leads directly or indirectly to thousands of avoidable deaths every year and notable financial losses. Our aim at Sproxil working with NAFDAC is to drastically reduce this trend in time with services like MAS (Mobile Authentication Service)
Can you explain the details of the working relationship between Sproxil and the National Agency for Food Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) on this project?
As you are well aware, NAFDAC is the food and drug regulator for Nigeria and they launched MAS in 2010 after a successful pilot with BIOFEM Pharmaceuticals. Our technology supports NAFDAC by providing consumers, patients and healthcare providers with the ability to independently verify the authenticity of their medications at points of purchase with a free text message. One of our clients Greenlife pharmaceuticals launched our service with their popular anti malaria product Lonart early this year and feedback from consumers has been very good.
Another company, mPedigree has been laying claims to this innovation in Nigeria, what is the true position?
We cannot speak for mPedigree but can tell you that we have been working very closely with NAFDAC and pharmaceutical manufacturers like GlaxoSmithKline, BIOFEM, Elbe, Greenlife, Synergy, Euromed, Geneith and a host of others to ensure that their brands and products are protected as are the Nigerian and global consumers that use them. To date, we have processed over two million (and growing!) product verification requests received from consumers in Nigeria alone. That’s a major accomplishment, showing we are a major player in this field.
What degree of cooperation have you received from Nigerian drug manufacturers and can you list some of the firms that signed up for your services?
We are convinced our solution is one of the best ways forward in the fight against counterfeited drugs and in the last several months, the number of protected brands has grown notably indicating that there is recognition that we add value with our service. In all, the industry is welcoming of the service but there is still a lot of work to do. Nigerian companies are finding new benefits from our service, such as anti-theft protection. Last year, when thieves stole thousands of drugs from one of our clients, we were able to change the response to say “ALERT! Stolen Product! NAFDAC can help you” and consumers soon started reporting places where the stolen drugs were being sold. NAFDAC was alerted and action was taken!
Given the fact that the system operates with the use of mobile phones, is there any cooperation from the telecoms operators in the country?
All the GSM operators in Nigeria are cooperating. Many of them have even recognised that a healthy Nigeria will make more phone calls, so it is in the operator’s own interest to support efforts to keep Nigeria healthy and free from counterfeit products. We have seen strong support from Airtel recently – they have partnered with us to help us expand across 17 African countries. We anticipate other networks like MTN in Nigeria will continue to express their increased commitment to the well being of Nigerians.
Apart from those illegally manufactured from Nigeria, have you been dealing with the issue of imported fake drugs?
NAFDAC would be the best entity to provide you with all the details on counterfeiting in Nigeria. We recently saw an international news report on counterfeit imports where a man was jailed for three years for importing fake Fulcin (griseofulvin) into Nigeria. From the news report, it turns out the manufacturer of the drug had stopped producing it 10 years ago!
It’s been said that quite a number of Nigerians are yet to key into the programme because of lack of adequate sensitisation programme. How do you correct this?
Both NAFDAC and our pharmaceutical clients continue awareness campaigns to bring consumers up to speed on the availability of this fantastic solution. We will continue to support these efforts as we grow. Consumers should always remember to scratch and text at the point of purchase, and report any suspicious activities.
Who are your partners in business?
Our main partners are mobile technology and customer service providers, as well as our many clients in different industries.
How does your service work?
It’s a simple service that puts the power of authentication in the hands of the product end user.
For all products on our service, there’s a scratch of label on the packaging. As an end user, all you need to do is scratch off that label revealing a PIN (Product Identification Number) and then text the PIN to 38353. The text is free!You’ll get an instant response confirming ‘OK’ or ‘FAKE’.