According to the World Health Organization, 25% of the medicines sold in the developing world are inauthentic copies containing little or no active ingredients. When fake drugs are laced with lethal ingredients they can lead to mass fatalities, as was the case in a 1995 outbreak of false meningitis vaccine in Niger that killed 195,00 people. To fight the problem, this E-Team is developing an SMS protocol called UPAP. UPAP is a labeling system for drug manufacturers that allows customers to use their cell phones to text message covert, one-time alphanumeric codes to the drug company's back-end database for verification. The system verifies whether or not the drug is genuine, allowing the customer to get information on what they're buying right at the pharmacy.
A number of competing drug-verification technologies exist, such as RFID and colorimetric/holographic signatures, but none combine UPAP's low cost and high effectiveness. The team plans to focus initially on Ghana, where 40% of the drugs are counterfeit.
Update: a member of the original team has incorporated the venture as Sproxil, which has several partners, including the World Economic Forum Technology Pioneers Program, Ashoka, Nokia, and a number of telecoms carriers and pharmaceutical regulators in Ghana, Nigeria, and India.