Blockchain medicine tracking pilot gets nod in Afghanistan

The government of Afghanistan has given the go-ahead for a pilot project that aims to tackle the country’s big problem with falsified medicines using blockchain-based verification.

The Smart Medicine pilot is being run by blockchain startup Fantom and its labelling partner Chekkit, in collaboration with The Afghan Ministry of Health, pharmaceutical distributor Royal Star and drug manufacturers Nabros Pharma, Bliss GVS and INSAF Pharmaceuticals.

Products made by Bliss, Nabros and INSAF will be tracked in the pilot at each step of the distribution chain by Royal Star, which will scan barcoded labels provided by Chekkit.

Each scan will generate a “hash” recorded on Fantom’s blockchain, incorporating 11 data points, namely: product name; batch number; barcode number; expiry date; production date; FDA number; producer’s name; location of scan; status of scan; time; and date of scan.

The result should be an “immutable audit trail”, according to Fantom, as Royal Star will be able to ensure that the data is authentic by comparing the hash of the data to the hashes that exist on the blockchain.

“Counterfeit drugs are a huge problem in Afghanistan. Due to a lack of checks in the supply chain process, counterfeit drugs are mixed with legitimate drugs during the distribution process,” according to Fantom, citing a 2017 campaign that uncovered 100 tonnes of expired, falsified and substandard medicines in 2017.

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The pilot will track initially 80,000 units of the four pharmaceutical products, including 50,000 units of a hand sanitiser produced by INSAF, and 10,000 units apiece of Nabros’ Free Joint cream for joint pain, Diacare diabetic foot cream, and Kofanol chewable tablets for coughs, colds and sore throats.

Fantom will track Bliss’ pharmaceuticals later in the pilot programme once import restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 crisis are relaxed.

“This programme is the first application of blockchain in Afghanistan,” said Ghulam Sayed Rashed, executive director of Afghanistan’s National Medicine & Health Care Products Regulatory Authority.

“We are so happy to be applying it in the health sector to stop counterfeit drugs by making it easy to track pharmaceutical products. It’s an important project for our nation,” he added.

The partnership was facilitated by SkChain, a blockchain consulting company that brought the various parties together.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in 10 medical products circulated in developing countries are substandard or falsified.

The situation is thought to be worse in Afghanistan where the Public Health Ministry estimates that 40 per cent of all medicinal products enter the country illegally.

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