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Fake drugs can infiltrate shipments even when it's the United Nations or the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria that is the sender. Last year, malaria medicines dispatched to Ghana by the Global Fund mysteriously went missing. Once the drugs arrived in the country, they were replaced by counterfeits, leading Ghanaian authorities to investigate allegations a cartel was replacing real drugs with fake ones.
Last month, the Nigerian government decided the text messaging system should be used on all medicines as soon as possible. "Consumers can now take the war (against counterfeit drugs) into their own hands," said Dr. Paul B. Orhii, director-general of Nigeria's National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control.
Orhii said the government is negotiating with telecoms companies to lower the price of sending text messages to encourage more companies to adopt the system.
Beyond Nigeria, other countries including Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, have all expressed interest in signing up for the technology. So far, small trials of the text messaging system have been conducted in Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and Nigeria. The Nigerian government recently ran its own test of the system on diabetes medicines used by more than 20,000 people.
Harris said the widespread use of mobile phones in Africa -- where many people commonly use cell phones to do banking -- should spur the acceptance of the text messaging system.
But he wasn't entirely convinced Nigeria's adoption of the technology could be used for every medicine and said it would be impossible to police. "Any system that is controlled by the government can stifle new technologies," Harris said. Counterfeits are so rife in Africa he said it would take much more than one initiative to fix the problem.
Still, Harris predicted the system would help consumers in countries where corruption often compromises the medical supply. "This will help people whether they're buying their medicines at a hospital pharmacy or a roadside market," he said.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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