CEO of Sproxil, Inc. Ashifi Gogo’s venture into social entrepreneurship has continuously enjoyed a strong link with academia. Ashifi holds degrees in mathematics and physics and is now the Holekamp Family PhD Innovation Fellow in engineering at Dartmouth College. At Dartmouth, he earned an IEEE GOLD Humanitarian Fellowship by virtue of social enterprise, and honed his professional acumen with Six Sigma Back Belt training. The Clinton Foundation, GSVC Berkeley, Princeton Entrepreneurs’ Network, NCIIA Venture Well and Nokia have acknowledged his work through a variety of prizes and fellowships. Ashifi also frequently presents at conferences including those organized by the U. S. Department of Commerce, The World Bank, Global Health Council, The African Network and the Corporate Council on Africas U.S.-Africa Business Summit.
By Ashifi Gogo (@ashifi)
Every day in some parts of the world, consumers have to face a key decision point. “Should I go for the red shoes or the blue ones? Wait for next years model, or go for that new car next week? In many developing nations, consumers often have to deal with this decision too: “Which anti-malarial will cure (and not kill) my toddler?
The $75 billion fake medication industry, primarily in developing nations, puts stress on consumers at the point of purchase as they try to decide between drugs that look identical but that have radically different effects on the human body.
The technology behind what influences our decisions has come a long way. From old-fashioned posters, printed ads and word of mouth advertising, to shops that intelligently sprinkle ads through computer-controlled music that is meant to enhance purchasing behavior, technologists and behavioral scientists have invested significant amounts of effort into providing purchase decision support for consumers across all industries. One area that has received less attention in this study, perhaps, is in the case of counterfeit medication.
Fake drugs continue to be a problem, largely in developing nations. From sugar pills to corn starch “anti-malarials, counterfeit medication poses a threat to human life. Experts estimate that more than 700,000 Africans die yearly due to fake anti-malarials, TB and HIV medication. Just last year, 84 infants died in Nigeria due to teething syrup laced with deadly industrial chemicals. Whether drugs are made or stored poorly (sub-standard) or are just outright copies with no active ingredients, there should be an easy way to tell the difference between which medication to buy and which one to leave on the shelf to expire.
Fortunately, technology has a solution. With the aggressive adoption of mobile telephony, consumers are back in the game, even in developing nations. Technologists worldwide have worked tirelessly to make communications affordable. Today, many poor farmers, rural teachers and fearless fishermen in tiny canoes have cell phones for various reasons to check on prices at the market before the harvest, to provide distance education support and to figure out which shore to dock at to get the best prices for fresh fish while still at sea. With affordable communications, new ways abound in providing consumers with information decision support, even at the point of purchase.
So how do cell phones and fake drugs relate to each other? What if consumers had the ability to connect with the original manufacturer of a drug to ask if the item they are holding in the heat of the corner shop in Nigeria is actually a product made by the company as indicated on the box. “Is this really yours?, asks the curious consumer. The trusted manufacturer could then respond with a simple “yes or “no, appropriately informing the consumer, with simple technology, whether to buy the product or not.
Such an intersection of pharmaceuticals and technology holds promise in helping consumers make the right decision a decision that can change their lives or the lives of their loved ones.