It’s great to see more conferences sharing videos of their presenters so widely as I can’t think of a better advertisement for the next event in Paris next June (register today for the 50% online rate) and think the act of sharing reflects very well on the brands that invest in their time and financial support.
On home turf Lyse Brillouet, Director of Marketing at France Telecom’s “Orange Health”, took the opportunity to tell the story of a SMS counterfeiting service the mobile operator is rolling out in Kenya:
Apart from Mobile Operator mHealth teams is anyone else convinced this is an effective solution to counterfeiting of cheap pills?
2 years ago, Bright Simons, the founder of mPedigree (Orange’s technology provider on this initiative), reached out to us after I discussed several of the rather fundamental flaws that I could see in the solution being showcased as a mHealth solution to the $75 Billion counterfeit drug market.
I was informed that the problem originated because the video I’d watched was already 2 years old (made back in 2008) and showed an early pilot of the service that had by 2010 “evolved considerably since then, and benefited tremendously from forensic advice from members of the pharmaceutical industry, our strategic partners and from our continuous development and integration of appropriate intellectual property“.
I was assured that “all the security issues raised and many others not touched upon are already resolved in the latest models” but that due to “the confidentiality that comes with working with industry proscribes wide advertisement of our core activities in these areas” this information couldn’t be shared.
So imagine my surprise to see that 4 years later and there are still some very basic and obvious flaws in the service.
Where is the addressable counterfeit problem?
The location of this video suggests that the problem is with retail pharmacists who are corrupt, ignorant or deceived by their distributors.
If this is the case surely it’s not icing the cake that’s needed but much more fundamental regulation of the industry?
Are genuine pharmaceutical stores going to want to market Orange’s Counterfeit service?
Perhaps I’m completely wrong about this but is trust in pharmacists in Kenya so low that they need to advertise ways customers can check with a mobile operator that they are aren’t dishonest peddlers of killer alternatives?
Now I could easily accept that this would appeal to a guy who has a business selling out of a suitcase on the side of a road but is it actually helpful to give legitimacy to such uncontrolled distribution channels? Might this also contribute to the challenges that Kenyan patients face as a result of substandard medicines, improper handling/storage of medicines, etc?
This looks more like a means of preventing the counterfeiting of packaging NOT drugs
A very simple loop hole to this anticounterfeiting measure would be to just swap out the blister packs that are contained within the packaging.
Another way would be for a dishonest retailer to simply cut the code strip off the package and stick it onto the packaging of a counterfeit copy.
Another way would be for a dishonest retailer to copy the promotional posters featuring another shortcode number (all replies to customers state “this is genuine medication” of course).
Another way would be for a dishonest distributor or retailer to completely undermine trust in the mPedigree technology by scratching thousands of the panels, making records of the data (to use on their counterfeit products that they’ll then distribute quicker than the genuine products) and reapply a silver colored latex covering on the scratch panel before it’s put back into the genuine distribution channel. I imagine it wouldn’t take more than a couple of customers saying “the reply text says this strip has been used already” before pharmacists that bought in would be immediately losing confidence in the system and ripping those posters off their walls.
Isn’t this a missed opportunity to leverage the iPhone in the patients hands? How about a short URL linked to a mobile optimised URL that could provide more information on the medication and it’s use?
Why not also incorporate tracking tech? Not only could this provide the retailers name to the customer but it could help reduce theft and give quality storage/handling assurances to patients.
The Danger of creating False Assurances
One of the big challenges in tackling the sale of counterfeit medicines in markets like Kenya is the shortage of pharmacists and training opportunities for pharmacists, the lack of checks on pharmacist registration so that they aren’t competing with quacks, the lack of laws and enforcement of IPR, etc.
Unfortunately none of these will be addressed by putting the spot light on a easy to corrupt SMS authentication service and the failure of this service could just act to further undermine trust in genuine pharmacists products (eg. if I can confirm that I’m getting the same quality product off the quacks why would I shop with the more expensive registered Pharmacists?).
What I’d like to see Orange do with mPedigree
If I was in Lyse Brillouet’s position instead of creating another high profile time bomb for company (they’ve already got enough of these) by providing assurances for cheap NSAID’s to patients thousands of miles away, I’d just take this solution 5 miles across Paris to the Avenue Hoche office of LMVH.
Owned by Bernard Arnault, Europe’s richest man, this firm manages a wide range of luxury brands from Moët et Chandon Champagne to Glenmorangie Whiskey, Louis Vuitton handbags to Tag Heuer Watches, Guerlain cosmetics to Fendi Colognes to Givenchy perfumes, they even sell super expensive Christian Dior branded diamond encrusted mobile phones.
If they can make it work you won’t need to be trying to flog this to the pharmaceutical industry because they’ll be forming a line outside your door to get it…