The problem of fake drugs is a nightmare that affects everyone around the world, including Tanzania. While the government has introduced regulations on medical businesses, there are still loopholes that allow people to sell fake drugs both online and in brick-and-mortar shops due to a lack of verification before drugs enter the market.
A Tanzania-based online platform called PharmLinks, has launched to stop the crisis of fake drugs. The platform links pharmaceutical suppliers and wholesalers with retailers in Tanzania, to buy quality products from registered pharmacies and also monitor the market.
Frank Arabi, a medical student at Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences, co-founded PharmLinks found a number of challenges faced by the pharmaceutical industry in Tanzania, including the problem of procurement, which creates the perfect conditions for the fake drug business.
Arabi and his team designed an online system to facilitate pharmaceutical procurement and fight fake drugs by closely monitoring companies along the supply chain.
“The website provides a list of various pharmacies, products and prices. It provides business analytics and inventory management also provides a chance for end-users to verify the drugs. So it’s a complex system with a range of solutions,” said Arabi.
Launched in 2018 and still in the pilot phase, 35 pharmacists can now freely log onto the website and search medical products they want in their shops. The system directs them to wholesalers suppliers and stores vetted for safety and lists their prices for each product. The buyer can then choose the products and pay for them online, and soon after, products are delivered.
So far, Pharmlinks has linked with tens of pharmacies in Dar es salaam, Tanzania’s business hub, and hopes to connect to hundreds more across Africa in the coming year.
The Tanzanian pharmaceutical market faces several challenges, including a black market which enables people to buy medicines on the streets without a required prescription from the physician.
Besides Pharmlinks there is also another digital platform that focuses on fighting fake drugs in Africa. In 2018, a Nigeria-based platform, Medsaf, was launched to prevent fake drugs from circulating in the West African country, as well as FarmaTrus which was introduced in Ghana.
Pharmlinks works alongside the Tanzania Pharmacy Council, which is responsible for registering pharmacies and pharmacists, along with TMDA, to ensure this system is feasible.