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The Fake Drug detector app is tackling counterfeit pharmaceuticals

In Nigeria, up to 4 percent of all drugs in circulation are counterfeits according to the drug regulation agency, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC. This damaging fad has seen the country destroy some $80 million worth of fake drugs between 2015 and 2017 with anti-malarial medication being among the most counterfeited due to its high demand. In June alone, the regulatory body destroyed fake drugs worth close to $10 million. In response, industry players have christened this a ticking time bomb and called for urgent, holistic and innovative ways to tame this proliferation.

Save-a-Soul, a group of teenage girls from rural Nigeria have decided to do something about it. They have created a mobile-based application that detects fake drugs at the point of purchase. Known as FD Detector (Fake Drug Detector), the app allows health professionals and customers with a smartphone to scan the barcode in a drug. The app then indicates whether the drug is authentic or fake and also displays the drug’s expiry date. The innovation also has a feature that allows users to report any fake drugs directly to the regulator.

For 15-year old Jessica Osita, one of the girls from Save-a-Soul, coming up with the application was inspired by a personal experience of losing her brother who received fake drugs after an accident. The girls built the application using opensource software, despite never having used a computer before or even accessed the internet. Their mentor Uchenna Onwuamaegbu Ugwu, who runs a programme to train girls from underprivileged backgrounds on science and technology, put hours of work and energy in turning their dream into an innovation that has received international recognition.

Save-a-Soul won the junior division of the 2018 Technovation World Pitch Summit which is hailed as the world’s largest tech entrepreneurship programme for girls in the world. The competition brings together women and girls between 10 and 18 years who work in teams of one to five to come up with mobile based applications that provide solutions to biting problems in their community. Save-a-Soul beat teams from China, Spain, the U.S. and Turkey in a competition that attracted 2,000 applications in an event that was held in California and graced by top players in the global tech industry.

Judges praised the innovation for its power to address some of the biggest challenges in society while providing a platform for girls to make a contribution to the world of technology. “It is inspiring seeing the hard work and determination of girls around the world working to solve big challenges in their communities with smart solutions. World Pitch is not only an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of the nearly 100 girls advancing to the finals, it is a chance to celebrate the 20,000 that are making technology solutions for social good,” said Tara Chklovski, CEO and founder of Iridescent, the organisation behind the summit.

Now the Save-a-Soul is looking at scaling the innovation by partnering with NAFDAC to build a comprehensive database of all certified pharmaceutical companies and drugs in the country. Anyone willing to sell or distribute drugs in Nigeria will need approval from the regulator. Once approved, their details are captured in the application, making it easier for customers to determine the authenticity and for regulation to crack down on counterfeit manufacturers.

African countries remain the dumping ground for the world’s counterfeit drugs, with over 40 percent of all global fake drugs found in the continent. “The transformative innovation by the Nigeria girls is a remarkable first step for the continent to arrest the proliferation of these harmful drugs” said Dr Bramwell Otiende, a lecturer at the University of Nairobi School of Medicine in Kenya. The World Health Organization estimates that 100,000 deaths occur each year in Africa as a result of counterfeit trade in medicine; it is innovations such as these that are at the forefront of the continent’s ability to curtail such industries.

This article was originally published by FAIRPLANET as part of an ongoing content partnership.

Why we need more scientific evidence on the benefits of cannabis products

On May 31, the U.S.’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held a public hearing to obtain scientific data and information about the safety, manufacturing, product quality, marketing, labelling, and sale of products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived products. At this point, there’s almost no need to ask why. In the U.S., as well as in the U.K. and many other countries, cannabis-related products have flooded the market, making health claims about pain relief, immune function, anxiety, and depression. But it turns out there is little known about how effective these are.

My aim here is not to demonise cannabis Nixon-style but to underline the uncertainty that surrounds it. Understandably, it is difficult to push people to study a substance that until very recently has been almost globally illegal. Even the few studies we’ve had on the topic are outdated, with all the recent developments made in plant-breeding and the changes made in THC concentrations (from the low single digits to more than twenty percent).

From my personal experience, cannabis products seem to work for pain relief and treating anxiety. But I’m not a doctor, and everyone reacts differently to different things. Although it was very necessary, the FDA’s public hearing delivered close to no results and one clear answer: we don’t have enough scientific research to prove the medical benefits of cannabis, and we need to get on it ASAP. What do we have? Testimonies from recreational smokers, cancer patients and new products showing up everywhere—new types of weed, CBD oils, vapes, edibles, creams and more.

When discussing cannabis on a political level, the argument of it being a ‘gateway’ drug is always raised by more conservative voices. And in response to this, there are often two rigid answers: the first one would be that weed has a negative neurological effect on us and pushes people to behave in certain ways, leading them to more serious addictions. The second answer is that, on the contrary, marijuana offers people a safer alternative to other ‘stronger’ drugs, keeping them away from opioids and stimulants. And here again, both answers sound too short-sighted, and I can’t help but feel like we’re missing years of research on a variety of participants to really assert anything.

During the FDA’s hearing, acting commissioner and director of the National Cancer Institute Dr. Ned Sharpless said, “When hemp was removed as a controlled substance, this lack of research, and therefore evidence, to support CBD’s broader use in FDA-regulated products, including in foods and dietary supplements, has resulted in unique complexities for its regulation, including many unanswered questions related to its safety”. And this raises another issue—how exactly are we going to regulate something that has recently become legal in some countries when we don’t even know its long-term effects?

For now, all these questions are left with no answers. We’re only a bit over a decade into the widespread recreational use of marijuana, meaning the data we actually have are pretty messy and vague. The same issue will probably show up in a few years, this time concerning e-cigarettes and vapes. The only certainty I have to offer is that, yes, we need more scientific research on cannabis-derived products. Until then, nothing can be said for sure, not that it matters most of the time. What’s important to remember is how many deaths marijuana has caused: zero, nada, unlike many other drugs, and let’s be honest here, who doesn’t like to spark up after a long day? Junk food clogs your arteries and yet you’ll see me eating chicken nuggets like they’re going out of fashion. I’ll leave you with my hypocritical advice: consume everything in moderation—chicken nuggets and weed included.