Ashifi Gogo – Fighting the Menace of Counterfeit Drugs One SMS Message at a Time

Jun 2, 2010

Last week, the Global IP Center had the pleasure of hosting Ashifi Gogo—a Ghanaian-born entrepreneur and CEO of Sproxil, Inc.—as part of the GIPC’s Speaker Series designed to raise awareness of topical intellectual property (IP) issues. Growing up in West Africa—where counterfeit medicines constitute between ten and thirty percent of the marketplace—the scourge of fake drugs in his native country left an impression on Gogo. Tired of seeing people dying from counterfeit drugs that contained no active ingredients, or even from others that included toxic chemicals, Gogo started Sproxil, Inc., a company that verifies the authenticity of pharmaceuticals by employing user-friendly technologies to circumvent the counterfeiters. By using text messages, consumers provide labeling information to Sproxil, which in turn verifies the legitimacy of product—all in real time using technologies and processes the local population is familiar with. Initial field tests have proven successful. Gogo hopes that Sproxil will help stem the tide of counterfeit drugs, not only in West Africa, but in other developing nations as well.

Ashifi’s story (in his own words below)—both unique and inspiring— is a somber reminder that counterfeit drugs can kill. In addition to providing consumers the tools they need to help ensure their purchases are authentic, increased enforcement efforts are needed to stem the flow of counterfeit medicines in the first place. Fortunately, the Obama Administration is working on America’s first-ever National IP Enforcement Strategy that has the potential to crack down on the counterfeiting and piracy that harms consumers, kills jobs, and impedes our economic resurgence. Enhancing our IP enforcement efforts is not only a bipartisan issue that enjoys enormous support on Capitol Hill, but it is also a critical factor in the country’s future that is endorsed by both business and labor. We look forward to learning more about the Obama Administration’s strategy to protect consumers and grow our economy when this plan is released in the coming weeks. 

In the meantime, here is Ashifi Gogo’s story:

“Counterfeit medication and sub-standard products are now a mainstream issue of concern. Recent disastrous incidents, such as the death of 84 infants in Nigeria due to tainted teething syrup, have led to much public outcry on the challenges consumers face in a global marketplace laced with counterfeit products worth over $500 billion. The private sector in a number of industries has moved past the stage of denial, where just a few years ago, it was generally unpopular to admit that one’s products were under attack by brand pirates. Today, consumers, companies and governments are asking – what can be done to stop this counterfeiting menace?

“In addition to good efforts in boosting regulatory capacity, tightening up supply chains globally and offering greater training and resources to border patrol, enforcement and customs agents, it is refreshing to see the adoption of new strategies to tackle counterfeiting and diversion. With the use of new technology and heightened public awareness, consumers can now bring significant value to the table in the fight against counterfeit goods. Given the right tools, consumers are the largest, and potentially most vigilant anti-counterfeiting force one could ever have – 6 billion anti-counterfeiting agents worldwide, with eyes in every pharmacy, corner shop and retail outlet.

“The role of the consumer in the fight against counterfeiting extends well beyond their ability to detect suspicious products. Consumers, knowingly or unknowingly, provide financial support to counterfeiters by purchasing fake products. In some cases, especially in the luxury goods sector, consumers are known to patronize goods that are confusingly similar to genuine brands. In other instances, consumers end up with fake versions of the genuine products they intended to buy. In both cases, counterfeiters equally get funded.

“As counterfeiters are in operation primarily for profit, consumers have a key role in stemming the growth of the fake products industry. If consumers refrain from purchasing fake products, counterfeiting will eventually be eliminated. For counterfeiters, no sales means no profit, and no profit means no motivation to counterfeit. Society can solve the problem of counterfeiting by patronizing products from genuine manufacturers, both branded and generic.

“So how can a consumer stay away from counterfeit products? New services leveraging the explosive growth in mobile phone adoption in the developing world have made it possible for consumers to stay away from fake medication. Our company, Sproxil, provides consumers with such a service, where with a simple text message, they can determine whether to buy or stay away from a product that could be counterfeit. Because Sproxil provides purchase decision support at the point of sale using a toll-free text message, consumers now have an easy and convenient way to stop supporting counterfeiters unknowingly every time they get tricked into buying a fake product.    


“Consumers love it. We have processed tens of thousands of text messages just a couple of weeks after launching the service in Nigeria to tackle the challenge of fake medication, and we look forward to fully exploring the promise of Crowdsourced Anti-counterfeiting – putting the power of authentication in the hands of the consumer to help solve the fake drug conundrum.”

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