The problem of fake medicines is a nightmare that affects anyone in the world – also in Tanzania. Although the government introduced rules in the medical business, there are gaps that allow people to sell fake medicines on the Internet and in physical stores for lack of verification of the drugs before they enter the market.
Now, an online platform called PharmLinks, founded in Tanzania, wants to stop the fake drug crisis. The platform links pharmaceutical suppliers with retailers in Tanzania, to buy quality products at registered pharmacies and thus monitor the market as well.
Frank Arabi, a medical student at the Muhimbili University of Health and Related Sciences, is a co-founder of PharmLinks, and noted the difficulties facing the pharmaceutical industry in Tanzania, including the acquisition problem, which creates the perfect conditions for the drug trade fake
Arabi and his team projected an online system to simplify the acquisition of medicines and fight counterfeit drugs by tracking companies along the supply chain.
“The website has a list of different pharmacies, products and prices. Provides a business analysis and inventory management; It also provides an opportunity for end customers to verify medications. So it is a complex system with various solutions, ”said Arabi in an interview with Global Voices.
Launched in 2018 and still in the experimental phase, 35 pharmacists can now freely consult the page and find the medical products they would like to have in their stores. The system directs them with wholesale suppliers and to stores banned for safety and lists their prices for each product. The buyer can then choose the products and pay online, and soon after, the products are delivered.
Finding fake medicines
Venance Majula, a resident of Dar, remembers the day that his sister almost used fake medicines after buying them at a pharmacy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Fortunately, a family member who had previous knowledge about medicine, realized that the medicine was false when he checked the serial numbers and ingredients.
“Most do not know which are original and which are not. I think those responsible, perhaps pharmacists, should provide information on what to consider when buying or using a particular medication, ”Majula said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says that, annually, almost 100,000 people die in Africa from using fake or inferior medicines, and the number is growing.
Arabi believes that the problem of fake drugs is a big trade and several strategies are needed to combat it. “The global market for fake medicines is worth about 200 billion dollars annually,” according to WHO, as reported by Reuters.
“I think that the problem of fake medicines is truly complex and broad, it requires a multidimensional approach and addressing it from all angles of the supply chain is just one of those problems… we believe in the power of digital health to improve the health of our people, ”said Arabi.
In June 2019, the Government through the Tanzania Agency for Medicines and Medical Devices (TMDA) warned of the presence of a fake drug in Tanzania similar to Gentrisone, a cream used for bacterial infections. The local news channel Daily News revealed that 4118 tubes were found in six regions of Tanzania.
Pharmlinks has so far linked up with dozens of pharmacies in Dar es Salaam, the business center of Tanzania, and hopes to connect with hundreds more in the next year.
The Tanzanian pharmaceutical sector faces several challenges, including a black market that allows people to buy medicines on the streets without a prescription.
On Tandale Street, 3 km from the center of the city of Dar, Hawa Alex Dagaa, owner of a pharmacy, admits that some people buy the medicines from those who do not have the license to sell them just because the product is cheaper.
“Some people are buying medicines from those people just because they are cheaper, but the authenticity of the product is not guaranteed.”
Dagaa believes that the new online system will not only save time, previously used to find stores that sell medicines at affordable prices, it will also help track products distributed in the market, thereby reducing the chances of buying fake medicines.
“Due to traffic jams, it takes a lot of time to go find … medical products for my pharmacy in the city but with that system, you can register, place your order, pay and they will bring it to you,” he added.
In Africa, Pharmlinks is not the only platform focused on the fight against fake medicines. In 2018, the Nigerian medsaf platform was launched to prevent the circulation of fake drugs in West African countries, while FarmaTrus was introduced in Ghana.
Pharmlinks works closely with the Tanzania Pharmacy Council, responsible for registering pharmacies and pharmacists, together with the TMDA to ensure the viability of that system.