While mobile marketing can provide Consumer Packaged Goods (CPGs) companies with new, dynamic and creative avenues to reach their customers, it can also be employed for much weightier tasks, including track-and-trace and brand authentication, especially within the pharmaceuticals market.
According to the World Health Organization, counterfeit drugs are a growing global epidemic, particularly in developing countries, where between 10% and 30% of all drugs are fake. Last February, pharmaceutical distributor Biofem Pharmaceuticals Ltd. of Nigeria, in cooperation with Nigeria's National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) began a trial of mobile technology for authentication of one of its drugs to combat counterfeiting.
The trial began with 500-mg packs of Merck Santé s.a.s.'s Glucophage product for Type II diabetes, which had been the target of counterfeiting the previous year. Biofem, with Merck's backing, employed the Mobile Authentication Service™ from Sproxil, which allows consumers to check the authenticity of their medication through the use of a scratch card and a cellphone.
As Biofem managing director Femi Soremekun explains, there are six sachets, or blister packs, in every carton of 500-mg Glucophage. On each sachet is a scratch-off label. To determine the genuineness of the drug contained within, the user scratches off the covering on the card to reveal a unique item code. This code is then texted to a static short code, and instantly the user receives an SMS reply regarding the product's authenticity.
The free MAS service is available anywhere there is a mobile signal in Nigeria and is compatible with the country's three largest mobile networks. Commenting on the prevalence of cellphones, Soremekun says that there are more than 150 million people in Nigeria, and “teledensity is about 60 million users.”
To date, more than 800,000 packages of Glucophage have been coded, and Soremekun says that “for now, it has helped in identifying products that have been compromised by fakers.” The next phase, which adds scratch cards to Merck's 1,000-mg Glucophage product, will begin shortly, he adds. Ultimately, NAFDAC hopes to expand the initiative to all other drugs at risk of counterfeiting, including those distributed from hospitals and clinics. -Anne Marie Mohan, contributing editor