IBM Takes Aim at Fake Medicines Using Blockchain Technology

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IBM, the tech giant garnering a reputation for blockchain innovation and investment, is developing a blockchain solution to a problem that has plagued parts of Africa for years – fake medicine. Haifa, IBM’s research center in Israel, is working on a mobile solution where those involved at each step of the medicine supply chain, from the time the ingredients arrive at the laboratory to the time they are delivered to the clinic, is verified on the blockchain, allowing the end-user to verify who has been involved in the manufacture of the drugs before they sign for it.

The Need for Transparency

Fake medicine is a huge problem in Africa. A rising demand for affordable healthcare has led to counterfeit medicines being smuggled into the country for sale, often from China and India. These fraudulent medicines often containing no active ingredients or worse – the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine estimates that up to 158,000 deaths from malaria could be caused every year by fake antimalarial drugs in Africa. Studies in medicine supply chain show that up to thirty different companies can touch a pharmaceutical product before it ends up on the shelf, highlighting the need for transparency throughout the entire process, which IBM is hoping to achieve.

Numerous Blockchain Solutions Being Worked on

IBM was working on a blockchain-based solution to counterfeit drugs as far back as 2017, but the research has stepped up a gear recently, with real world trials being carried out, as reported in Kenyan newspaper The Standard. Other blockchain companies are working on such solutions too. VeChain has been involved in ensuring the authenticity of baby milk formula following the 2008 scandal that saw 54,000 babies hospitalized due to fake formula powder. Ambrosus and Modum also offer blockchain solutions to ensure that medicines are authentic and go through a transit process that meets the criteria of the drugs, for example remaining between a certain temperature range. Many of these projects are nearing launch now, meaning that in the coming years IBM, or one of these other companies, can hopefully begin to affect change that would allow blockchain to save lives.