Tech Innovator Bright B. Simons: Leading The Fight Against Counterfeit Medicines

BY DOLA ADESANYA

Bright Simons

Bright B. Simons is a social entrepreneur. His interests are in technology innovations, political economy, social activism, and how these phenomena intersect to create change.

In 2005, he returned to Ghana, after a number of years in Europe, to create his own enterprise. He gave up an academic career because he wanted to so something practical, however, he was faced with one major challenge, he had no money – “I realised I needed to become an entrepreneur. And I had no money. So I needed to find an area where I could make an impact without a lot of money. And that is where technology came in.”

Simons came up with an idea. His idea was to use technology to tackle the problem of counterfeit medicine. The World Health Organisation estimates that counterfeit medicine account for about 30% of all medicines on sale and kill up to 2,000 people daily worldwide.  Simons saw mobile phone technology as the answer to this problem – “The infrastructure was already widespread and entrenched, all I had to do was negotiate access”. He invented a system that empowers consumers to instantly verify with a free text message whether the pack of medicine is an original from the legitimate brand owner. The system works in a way that each pack of medicine are uniquely labeled with a technique known as ‘serialisation’. Consumers are then able to verify whether the medicine is of sound pharmaceutical quality by sending to a secure hotline, a free text message containing the unique serial ID found on the pack of medicine. To effectively run this system, Simons partnered with pharmaceutical companies, telecom operators, major technology providers and regulatory agencies.

His work in this area has been channeled through the mPedigree Network, as well as through the public interest organisation IMANI (www.imanighana.org), a research institute ranked among the world’s 20 most innovative think tanks by the United Nations University and the University of Pennsylvania.

Simons has shown that it is not impossible to solve a high-impact problem with very little resources. His organisation,mPedigree, now works with 20 telecom companies and is in discussions with two dozen more. This system has appeared on more than 6.5m packs of medicine and has been adopted as the national standard in three different countries.

With the mounting cost of healthcare in Africa, coupled with the dangers associated with using counterfeit medicine, the mPedigree innovation is an enormous boost to healthcare on the continent. This simple process would definitely contribute in restoring trust in public health system.

Most exciting, perhaps, is that the system is now being taken beyond Africa. It’s become a model for the industry in India and is being extended across south Asia. “It’s the first time that innovations from Africa are going to other parts of the world,” says Simons. “It’s changing the traditional story about the continent and demonstrating that Africa can be the source of groundbreaking innovations.”

In 2012, Bright B. Simons was honoured with the title of “Young Global Leader” by the World Economic Forum. He is a Tech Museum Laureate and a Brain Trust member of the Evian Group at IMD, widely considered Europe’s foremost business school.In the course of Simon’s various activities he has addressed many of the Fortune 100 CEOs, and been cited in many of the world’s most prominent publications, such as the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, the New York Times, the Asian Times, Fast Company, Time magazine. Simons is also a regular commentator for the BBC World Service.

Dola Adesanya|| is an astute lawyer with a good business acumen. She loves everything motivational.

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