After pilot, Afghan medicines tracing system goes national

The Afghanistan government has decided to expand the use of a blockchain-powered medicines traceability platform, after successful pilot testing.

The pilot got underway last year and was run by blockchain specialist Fantom Foundation using product authentication and supply chain tracking technology developed by Nigeria's Chekkit Technologies, with the aim of tackling Afghanistan's huge illegal medicines problem.

Data published by the Medicine Importers Union suggests that at least 40 per cent of medicines and medical products enter Afghanistan illegally, and that the majority of these drugs are counterfeit or substandard.

The pilot involved three manufacturers – local distributor and importer Royal Star Pharma and Indian drugmakers Bliss GVS Pharma and Nabros Pharma – which used Chekkit’s platform to generate unique identifiers for packs carried by QR codes or pin codes and recorded on the blockchain network.

In addition to a serial number, the unique IDs included a product stock-keeping unit (SKU), production date, expiry date, and registration number.

During testing, retailers and consumers used the codes – located behind scratch off films – to verify the authenticity of upwards of 80,000 personal and medical items. Internet-enabled mobile phone users could scan the QR code, while for those without internet connections a pin code can be entered via a local phone number.

Data gathered by Royal Star Pharma suggested that the public was keen to use the system to gain reassurance about the safety of their purchases.

Now, the aim is to expand the system to a national level in Afghanistan, covering around 210m products including critical and high-volume medical supplies, and offer it as a platform for other countries including India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

If a counterfeit or expired medicine is discovered using the platform, the purchaser receives a warning and an alert is sent to the manufacturer and Afghan Ministry of Health so they can take corrective action.

"Together, the Ministry of Health and Fantom have successfully demonstrated a financially viable pathway to end once and for all supply chain vulnerabilities within the pharmaceutical sector," said the partners in a joint statement.

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