Blockchain technology is also revolutionizing supply chains in the pharmaceutical industry, in the process, helping track fake medicines.
From genomics to robotics, technology is truly revolutionizing the healthcare sector. And while it’s easy to become consumed by exciting, futuristic trends like artificial intelligence (AI) diagnosis, digitized patient records and 3D-printed medical tools, technology is also transforming the pharmaceutical industry. How medication is prescribed, dispensed and administered is big business with McKinsey predicting the value of Africa’s pharmaceutical industry to be $65 billion in 2020.
But fake drugs are an ongoing and complex issue – they can cause death, have unknown side-effects, fail to treat illnesses, and sometimes even add to the spread of disease. According to World Health Organization (WHO) statistics, 42% of detected cases of falsified (or substandard) pharmaceuticals occur in Africa – reports estimate that between 72,000 and 169,000 children die each year from pneumonia because of counterfeit antibiotics while fake malaria drugs cause an additional 64,000 –158,000 deaths every year in sub-Saharan Africa. Both antimalarials and antibiotics sit among the most commonly-reported counterfeited drugs.
“Fake medicine distribution is rampant because business processes are siloed between the various industry stakeholders, which puts the industry at risk of fraud,” explains Heidi Patmore, a marketing consultant specializing in technology that’s changing consumer behavior.
“One solution to this would be cross-company process automation which could easily be enabled by a blockchain data interchange. This creates an open information system that all players can use to verify the authenticity of medication because it can track and trace it from when it’s manufactured to when it is dispensed to the patient.”
Companies such as IBM and SAP are working on blockchain solutions to weed out Africa’s counterfeit medication network. When medicine is returned to pharmaceutical manufacturers, for example, it is often re-sold instead of being destroyed. How can a small local pharmacy ensure what is returned is authentic? SAP are working with their existing client base – Merck, GSK, Ingelheim, McKesson and others – on a blockchain project to verify that any returned drugs are original.
IBM Research’s solution for Africa (currently in development in Haifa, Israel) includes a mobile interface and permissioned blockchain backend that enables each certified and authorized party in the network to initiate action, finish their transaction, and track its progress.
“It also includes the monitoring of temperature to ensure compliance with the proper conditions for transportation and asset transfer,” adds Inna Skarbovsky, a blockchain architect from IBM Research – Haifa. “Blockchain ensures full provenance for each medicine package, uniquely identified with a barcode or a serial number. This makes it possible for all authorized parties to track the drugs through the entire supply chain and the drugs’ life-cycle.”
This also allows significant cost reductions by eliminating each participant’s need to manage a separate system for traceability of its components. “It also improves procedural efficiency for change-of-hands, make it much harder for counterfeit drugs to be introduced into the supply chain and to be distributed to end-users,” says Skarbovsky.
Towett Ngetich is the CEO of Uthabiti Health, a Kenya-based pharmaceutical company that has implemented blockchain to bring transparency and accountability back to a country where statistics show that 30% of medicines sold are counterfeit. Uthabiti, which means ‘verify’ in Swahili, was started after Ngetich’s first-hand experience with the effects of fake health products: “Back in university, a significant number of students fell victim to unplanned pregnancies and unsafe abortions. With deep research, it was uncovered that there had been a supply of fake contraceptives and backstreet abortion pills into the student market,” explains Ngetich. More findings showed the presence of fake antibiotics, antiretrovirals (ARVs) and non-communicable diseases (NCD) medicines in the Kenyan pharmaceutical supply chain.
“Pharmaceutical science is the center of healthcare – one mistake in any drug composition or formulation has the risk of endangering a significant number of people. The need to access safe, affordable and quality health products in its simplest form means life and death in diagnosed health complications. Blockchain gives patients the ability to track and trace products using attached IDs – it also gives Uthabiti Health the ability to know where all our health products sit within each supply chain,” he says. Uthabiti Health procures medicines from different pharmaceutical manufacturers. Once received, they go to an internal laboratory for quality testing and are then labeled with the product’s safety lab report – attached in their codes is a unique blockchain ID. The medicines are then passed on to their partnering retail points, ensuring that the medicines dispensed to patients can be verified with something as simple as a text message.
“This brings in consumers in safe-proofing the supply chain of pharmaceuticals,” adds Ngetich.
The proliferation of fake drugs throughout Africa is complex – on average, medicine changes 30 hands before reaching the destined pharmacy – but blockchain technology has great potential to help stop counterfeit medicine distribution because it brings traceability and trackability to the entire pharmaceutical supply chain, ensuring the immutability of information.
While blockchain is still a relatively niche technology, it is slowly changing how organizations operate. Blockchain promises better security and transparency, but not necessarily for the customer, in the case of drug allocation: “Where blockchain technology could likely increase efficiency and simultaneously decrease the abuse of medicines, customers benefit. The pharmaceutical and related industries are unique however, in that the ‘consumer’ is also a patient – a vulnerable group with special needs and rights,” explains Candice De Carvalho, the founder of Easy Ethics CPD.
Although overall transparency in the supply chain increases through the use of blockchain, and this confers patient benefits, these must be weighed against patient privacy and confidentiality.
“With emerging technologies more freely available, we’ve observed an interesting shift in patient behavior, where data privacy is regarded less as an absolute by patients, in favor of a kind of sliding scale, where privacy itself is a currency that purchases medical benefits along the way,” adds De Carvalho. “Patients, for the right benefits, are perhaps more willing to part with some privacy privileges.”
De Carvalho questions the genuine knowledge that patients have of any exposure they experience through their use of novel medical device or systems innovations. The key drivers for the business are not necessarily unified with the total needs of the patient. However, the more the technology owners protect and balance the patient’s need for confidentiality and consent, the more they will ultimately see business benefit.
“In the context of a doctor-patient relationship, the doctor has a positive duty to enhance patient understanding so that the patient enjoys a truly informed consent. Does this then mean that technology providers are now responsible in the same way that medical health workers are?” she ends.
[IN NUMBERS] Coronavirus Update: COVID-19 In Africa
While most cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus have been reported in the U.S. , Europe, and China, the virus is spreading rapidly across the African continent.
The confirmed worldwide cases for the virus have surpassed 11 million with the current figure being at 11,015,514.
The increase in new reported cases around the world has led the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the coronavirus a global pandemic.
The death toll has risen globally to a whopping 524,747.
The U.S. leads with 131,485 deaths. Brazil is second with 61,990. The U.K is third with 43,995. Italy is fourth with 34,818, and France is fifth with 29,875.
China, where the virus originated from, maintains that the country’s death toll is at 4,634.
The figure of the global recoveries stands at 6,171,905.
The African continent has 436,253 cases of Covid-19, while the death toll stands at 10,693. The continent has made 210,489 recoveries.
Here are the numbers in Africa:
|Country||Confirmed Cases||Confirmed Deaths||Confirmed Recoveries|
|Cabo Verde (Cape Verde)||750||6||301|
|Central African Republic (CAR)||2,222||7||369|
|Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)||9,702||68||4,381|
|Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)||7,189||176||2,317|
|Eswatini (formerly Swaziland)||490||4||249|
|Sao Tome and Principe||661||12||177|
Note: The numbers will be updated as new information is available.
Empty Roads, Occupied Minds
With a deadly virus still lurking in the streets and tougher times ahead, traders in South Africa’s colorful townships desperately look to resuscitate their businesses with creative offerings online.
It’s almost two months into lockdown in South Africa and the country’s townships, once bustling hubs of trade, are slowly bracing themselves, with every ounce of willpower left in them, for the unprecedented reality that is ‘the new normal’.
For many, the national shutdown and closed shutters have meant lost jobs, stalled incomes and empty pockets, not to mention a deadly virus stalking them in every street and alley. The small entrepreneurs here – the lifeblood of any economy – now on their last pennies, are still hopeful their re-evaluated strategies and revamped resilience will see them through this fearful nightmare, as the restrictions ease and the townships will slowly crawl back to life again.
Behind the respectful veneer of the lockdown, some of the smaller traders hustle on illegally, under the radar, dodging police patrols and armed surveillance. They have no choice but to stick to their street-smart ways, to survive and feed their families.
In the township of Soweto, bigger, popular establishments such as The Box Shop on Vilakazi Street – the historic stretch home to Nobel Peace Prize winners Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the country’s former President Nelson Mandela – are looking to the future with great uncertainty, and have been forced to devise alternative digital strategies as lifelines for the present.
Sifiso Moyo founded The Box Shop, a lifestyle and retail outlet with his business partner, Bernard Msimango, and today, the street it’s located on, which attracted thousands of local and international tourists every day prior to the pandemic, is eerily quiet.
It will be a while until planes of international visitors land again, so the duo have chosen to go to them – online.
“For The Box Shop, we built hype around online and have taken the entire offering that existed in our physical infrastructure into a digital platform and that has made us into an innovation space, giving us access to a global audience. We are beginning to see our products being sold in places like Switzerland and the United Kingdom and we now have started harnessing partnerships,” says Moyo.
The website was launched in May, but the bigger vision for the entity was to start as a retail outlet and work backwards into the manufacturing space.
Moyo says the coronavirus taught them two things – to adapt digitally, and to work in the value chain.
The shop now also makes face masks, sold to public hospitals and NGOs.
A short drive from Vilakazi Street is a restaurant named Sancho, selling African cuisine and founded by Thato Mothopeng, a serial entrepreneur who also founded the popular annual Soweto Camp Festival.
Mothopeng is one of the few entrepreneurs in the tourism sector without a formal degree or training, but has had a roaring business nevertheless and is quite well-known in the circuit.
Mothopeng says all SMMEs are at a standstill because business thrives on human contact. But business also needs to be flexible, he adds.
“There are opportunities in the harshest environments. I am using this time to review my strategies. I am also not panicking because the country is managing the crisis; this is an opportunity for SMMEs to reflect because our people are sober now.”
He had to let go of a few employees and is working remotely.
Further in the township of Soweto, Thembeka Nkosi, the founder of Le Salon, has also developed her own coping mechanisms.
Her shop is shut, but people still seek her grooming advice. As per South Africa’s Level 4 lockdown restrictions, salons and beauty parlors are not allowed to operate.
“This [lockdown] is very stressful, more especially now because other businesses are operating. I still can’t make money, I still have to stay at home and not work,” rues Nkosi.
In addition to getting to spend more time with her five-year-old son, she has recently started sharing her haircare tutorials on social media.
“Now that shops are open to buy hair products, I send video clips to my clients and that brings me joy, knowing that I am still useful to them; even though it’s not making me any money yet, at least I am interacting with my clients,” she says, looking at the bright side.
Ronewa Creations is yet another small business in these parts.
Founded by Lesego Seloane and Dinah Kgeledi, the business offers landscaping services, garden maintenance and water harvesting solutions, and employs seven full-time workers. None of these services are allowed in the current phase of lockdown.
“Now that our province is still on Level 4, it is really difficult to focus because when we were working out our plans, there was so much uncertainty and we didn’t know how they could actually be implemented,” says Seloane.
She is grateful the duo have been active on social media, running a garden makeover campaign and offering landscaping designs for free.
“We are using a three-dimensional technology that revamps the look of gardens to give people an idea of how their gardens could potentially look like in the end.”
Despite the challenges, the two keep sane by spending time with family.
“If the business fails, I fail. If I don’t come out of my down moment quick, then I will fail and the entire organization fails,” says Seloane.
You can detect the determination in her voice to overcome this period, come what may.
Like many around her staring fear in the face, she has no other choice.
This Single Factor Could Force Another Coronavirus Shutdown, Goldman Sachs Says
With new coronavirus cases rising in 26 states, according to data from Johns Hopkins, and the national conversation turning to whether those states rushed to reopen their economies too quickly, new analysis from Goldman Sachs suggests that in the coming weeks, hospital capacity (rather than case numbers) is the factor most likely to prompt another lockdown.
- Goldman’s experts say hospital data is a more reliable picture of the spread of the virus nationwide than positive test results, which fluctuate with changes in testing trends.
- The analysts noted, however, that “there is probably a high hurdle for states to reinstate lockdowns.”
- As new cases continue to rise across the country, Goldman’s analysts also tracked which states currently meet federal reopening criteria based on four factors: symptoms, cases, testing and hospitalizations and fatalities.
- Only Arizona and Alabama fail in all four categories, the analysts say; symptoms and cases are on the rise, positive test rates are high, and hospitals are nearing their maximum capacities.
- On the other hand, 19 states meet all four criteria for reopening, including several former hot spots like New York and New Jersey, and the vast majority of states meet at least three out of the four criteria.
Along with Alabama and Arizona, California, Texas, and Florida have also seen sharp upticks in infections in recent days. Florida reported a record increase in new cases on four out of the six days between June 15 and 20, for instance. The number of confirmed cases since the pandemic started has now swelled to over 100,000, and Gov. Ron DeSantis said the uptick is “clearly” the result of a failure to follow social distancing guidelines. With cases on the rise, some places—like Arizona—are forging ahead with reopening plans while others—in Maine, Oregon, and Kansas, for instance—are tightening up restrictions again.
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