Counterfeit drugs are among some of the leading causes of death in sub-Saharan Africa. According to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, counterfeit drugs could be responsible for up to 270,000 additional deaths per year in sub-Saharan Africa.
In addition, the report notes that in some parts of Africa, more than 30% of medicines sold are substandard or falsified medical products. What is more, the continent is the most affected by the falsification of medicines, recording 42% of global seizures.
In order to help improve public health safety and ensure that consumers are buying the right drug and not a counterfeit, a Ghanaian entrepreneur, Ashifi Gogo, launched a tech startup called Sproxil which helps people to detect counterfeit products.
Sproxil works by providing consumers the means to do a quick authenticity test by SMS or app to check the unique number on the packaging of products on its platform. The platform/Sproxil was launched in 2009 and its first trial was done in Nigeria employing what was then called Mobile Product Authentication (MPA) on the well-known diabetes drug Glucophage, according to How We Made It In Africa.
Customers sent SMS to the code on a pack of Glucophage at no charge and received a notification on whether the product was authentic or not. Since the trial, Sproxil now has over three billion unique digital codes for the products of brands using its platform.
Gogo’s decision to invest in detecting authentic drugs was influenced by a tragic event that occurred in Nigeria in 2008 where children died after ingesting teething syrup. It was later uncovered that the teething syrup contained a high concentration of a toxic chemical. It was alleged that the manufacturer got ingredients from an unlicensed chemical marker.
According to Gogo, his vision to sanitize the drug industry would not have been possible without the vision of the then director-general of the Nigerian National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Professor Dora Akunyili. She wanted to adopt technology to solve the issue of counterfeiting and so invited Sproxil to make presentations to various stakeholders and trade groups.
Gogo funded the startup using his personal savings. Later, he got grants and prize money from competitions. Customer revenue also helped.
In its first year, the company achieved venture-style growth. “We tripled revenue each year for the first two years, then nearly doubled it again each year for the subsequent two years. It was in line with how venture capital investors expect companies they fund to grow,” he said.
The company in 2011 got a $1.8 million investment from Acumen Fund and a seven-figure loan facility from Deutsche Bank in 2015.
There are now other companies like Sproxil but Gogo believes his company can compete successfully. “We can accelerate sales but also plug holes in the supply chain where there might be security issues,” he said. “It’s two-for-one value.”
Born in Ghana, Gogo moved to the U.S. in 2001 to attend Whitman College. He studied mathematics and physics and completed his Ph.D. in engineering. The topic of his thesis was authentication technology designed for emerging markets.