Charlie gropes around in the dark, his hands feeling the edge of the bed frame as he seeks his walking stick; no he is not old or arthritic, his 26th birthday was barely a month ago. Charlie is blind, but he was not born that way. A fake anti-malarial drug destroyed the nerves that controlled sight when he was but a bumbling 14 year old teenager. His eyes are open and useless, thanks to a marketer of counterfeited drugs. Fake pills and pharmaceuticals are a massive problem in the developing world. The World Health Organisation estimates that they account for 40% of all medicines on sale, and kill up to 2,000 people daily worldwide, though other studies suggest the figure is even higher. Charlie is lucky to have escaped with his life.
Bright Simons is on a crusade to ensure that this damning trend is halted in Africa. How, you ask? Simons had the brilliant but simple idea to put a code on all drug packaging, enabling consumers to check if it was authentic or not with a simple text message while providing pharmaceutical companies with previously inaccessible market intelligence.
This idea was birthed and became the mPedigree Network that now works with 20 telecoms companies including MTN, Glo, tiGO, Airtel and Orange. NAFDAC [Nigeria] and HP are some of its partners. Its system has appeared on 6.5million packs of medicine and has been adopted as the national standard in three different countries. They partner the principal telecom operators in Africa, the leading pharmaceutical industry associations on the continent and Fortune 500 technology powerhouses to empower African patients and consumers to protect themselves from the fatal effects of pharmaceutical counterfeiting, which kills nearly a million people a year, and maim countless more like Charlie. It has most remarkably been taken beyond Africa, and has become a model for the industry in India and is being extended across South Asia. mPedigree is, and continues to be an amazing success, as legitimate pharmaceutical companies recover more than $200 million that is lost daily to counterfeiters.
Who is Bright Simons?
He is a Ghanaian who gave up an academic career to work in technology because he wanted to do something ‘practical’. Simons is an astrophysicist who turned down a scholarship to Durham University and an EU scholarship to read Migration Studies because he felt they were not “practical enough”. He desperately wanted to change things for good, and realised that he couldn’t create the impact he wanted to while in the UK. He returned to Ghana, and decided to build his own enterprise-something that would make a lot of impact with minimal resources, and voila! Technology came to his aid. According to him, Mobile Telecom Companies have invested a huge amount of money in Africa. “All you need is a good idea to convince them to give you access to this infrastructure.” Simons is all about innovations that will have an impact on human lives.
Simons is the Director of Development Research at IMANI [a globally recognised think-tank in Accra, Ghana], where he contributes to activities that challenge received wisdom about Africa’s development challenges. He is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Councils and Technology Pioneers Community. He is also an Ashoka Fellow, TED Fellow, Tech Museum Laureate and a Brain Trust member of the Evian Group at IMD, widely considered Europe’s foremost business school. His work has led to speaking engagements around the world and consequently to numerous citations in the International Press, ranging from the Economist, New York Times, Emerging Markets, the Financial Times, BusinessWeek, Asian Times, and the BBC, where he is a regular commentator for the World Service.
In 2010, he was conferred with an Archbishop Desmond Tutu Award by the African Leadership Institute. He is the recipient of other numerous awards, ranging from Marie Curie and Commonwealth Vision Grants to a PPARC Scholarship in Gamma Ray Astronomy.
At an interview published on New Africa, Simons states unequivocally; “It hasn’t been easy going. The old stereotypes about Africa “absolutely” still exist. When it came to approaching multinationals, I encountered stiff resistance to the idea that innovation could come from Africa rather than go to it, added to which there is almost no institutional funding for innovation in Africa. There’s no bank money, no aid money.”
But he did it still didn’t he? I have personally benefited from Simons innovation which was on a card of Amplicox capsules I bought 2-3 weeks back. I sent the code which was hidden behind a silver panel and got an OK reply. Amazing stuff!
Visible Impact with Invisible Resources…no excuses allowed.
Great read and a gooooood encourager to all young innovative Africans finding the business terrain tough!