One Man’s Quest to Combat Counterfeit Drugs — With a Suitcase

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

In a small house in rural Kenya, a young woman gives birth to a healthy little girl. Before anyone can celebrate, the mother starts bleeding. The woman will die soon if the bleeding doesn’t stop.

Luckily, the midwife has a drug in front of her, called oxytocin. It can easily stop the postpartum bleeding and save the women’s life. She takes the medication, but nothing happens. It doesn’t work.

This story is fictitious. But the scenario is all too common.

The problem is counterfeit drugs — medications that don’t have the active ingredient or have insufficient quantities of it to be effective. In other words, drugs that don’t work.

Counterfeit drugs account for roughly $75 billion of the $900 billion global pharmaceutical market — and about 100,000deaths a year in Africa alone. In Kenya, up to 30 percent of drugs on the market are counterfeit, the World Health Organization reported. Many “drugs” are no more than just chalk or water.

One man in Boston is trying to change that.

Muhammad Zaman, a biomedical engineer at Boston University, has designed a suitcase that detects fake drugs. Called PharmaChk, the device is about the size of a carry-on bag. When you open it up and pop a pill into the designated spot, it tells you whether the drug is real or not.

Source: NPR (link opens in a new window)

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