Africa goes mobile to tackle drug safety woes

Sub-Saharan Africa has suffered a drug safety meltdown. A new survey found that only four out of 46 countries in the region had adequate systems to pinpoint and react to problems with drug safety. Officials are prescribing a coordinated regional effort to bring pharmacovigilance up to snuff, and a new mobile tech system for reporting bad drug reactions in Nigeria is already in the works.

As the Canadian Medical Association's journal reports, a sizable 6.3% of hospital admissions in the region were tied to adverse drug reactions, according to an assessment of the issue by Management Sciences for Health, a nonprofit group based in Arlington, VA. The vast region has multiple factors contributing to the massive problem, including a surge in counterfeit medicines, misuse of legitimate prescription drugs, as well as governments and drugmakers failing to provide fixes.

What are pharma groups and governments doing wrong? For starters, according to the journal's article, only three out of 10 countries in the region have a pharmacovigilance system at all, and fewer than two out of 10 push drugmakers to conduct post-market surveillance.

Clearly, there's lots of room for improvement, and technology could be part of the solution. In Nigeria, for example, the government aims to use a mobile phone system to tip off consumers in the country about safety problems. It makes sense given the widespread use in the country and other parts of Africa of cell phones. And to track down fake drugs in Africa, Merck ($MRK) has tapped a mobile system from the U.S. startup Sproxil to let consumers use text messaging of codes on drug labels to check the authenticity of meds.

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