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Afghanistan to track pharmaceutical drugs using blockchain to prevent counterfeit medical products

Benson Toti

The initiative is expected to promote transparency in the health sector and create an immutable audit trail that will enable verifying the authenticity of medical products

The Afghanistan Ministry of Health has announced that it is collaborating with startup, Fantom, to commence trials on a blockchain-based smart medicine pilot program on Fantom’s Opera mainnet.

The solution aims to act as a starting point for rectifying major issues in the Afghan health system.  The program uses blockchain technology to mitigate against counterfeit medicines by tracking pharmaceutical drugs along the supply chain. It can put an end to the distribution of fake medical products in Afghanistan that are often caused by a lack of rigorous checks.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) found that one in ten medical products are “substandard or falsified” in developing countries. These numbers are much higher in a country like Afghanistan, where 40% of medicine and medical equipment that enter the country do so illegally. Thus, several pharmaceutical companies, including India based Bliss, Afghanistan based Royal Star and Indian manufacturer Nabros Pharma are participating in the pilot program on Fantom’s Opera mainnet.

Fantom will provide labels to attach to the pharmaceutical products produced by the two Indian Pharma companies. Royal Star will then scan these labels at each step of the distribution process in Afghanistan. Using cryptographic encryption, these products will be timestamped and details will be saved on the Fantom blockchain. Not only will this promote transparency in the health sector, but will also create an immutable audit trail.

The authenticity of these products can then be verified by the Ministry of Public Health by comparing their hash to that on the blockchain. Further, the blockchain also requires end consumers to verify their authenticity by scanning the label.

Fantom will supply labels to trace 80,000 products, covering four areas of pharmaceuticals, including 50,000 hand sanitizers, 10,000 joint creams, 10,000 Kofol chewable tablets and 10,000 Diacare foot creams. The pilot program is expected to last two to three months, and was supposed to start earlier this year. However, the process has been delayed due to COVID-19.

“Afghanistan is very interested in using new and emerging technology such as blockchain to solve some of the problems they face internally,” Michael Kong, the CIO of Fantom said.

Kong further explained that “With the outbreak of COVID-19 we have seen a sudden and dramatic demand for medical products, this, unfortunately, leads to opportunistic criminals looking to profit off the disaster.”

“These issues can be dramatically reduced via the introduction of transparent supply-chains and distributed ledger technology,” he added.

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