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Mainstreaming mobile authentication scheme in Nigeria

By Abubakar Jimoh

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The National Agency for Food Drug Administration and Control NAFDAC, has taken advantage of the rapidly increasing number of mobile telephone subscribers in the country to improve the health of its citizens and overcome existing communication barriers. In 2012, NAFDAC started a project to increase awareness of its health campaigns against drugs counterfeiting by empowering Nigerians to send SMS text through their mobile telephone, irrespective of their service providers, to verify the authenticity of drugs purchased in stores, and the packaging. Once sent, a real time feedback will confirm the authenticity or otherwise of the drug.

Nigerians are now looking forward to the potential of mobile phones and detecting counterfeit drugs with anticipation. In large part, the new scheme is being driven by the uptake of mobile phones. The ITU estimates that by the end of 2014, 80% of the Nigerians had a subscription to a mobile phone, and over 85% were covered by a mobile phone network.

Nigeria’s mobile telephony network currently covers 80% of the country’s target population, making this technology an ideal tool for the empowering individuals in authenticating the origins of drugs on sale in Nigeria’s drug mart. A key factor that has facilitated the use of SMS for health promotion in Nigeria is its telecommunications regulatory framework. Under current regulation, the Nigerian Communications Commission NCC, can instruct mobile telephone operators to broadcast text messages provided by individuals drug users through their network operator at no cost to the mobile telephone users.

“Indeed, for the health sector, the question is no longer whether mobile phones will be important to the anti counterfeiting drive, but how best to approach a rapidly changing and nascent channel to deliver better services to millions of consumers”.

Based on our survey, it would be safe to believe that manufacturers already offer some form of codes on their packages to enable consumers verify the authenticity of their drugs. In fact, almost two third of our respondents indicated that Mobile Authentication Scheme of the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, was already mainstream or on the verge of gaining absolute consumer confidence.

Mobile Authentication Scheme has also started to see widespread consumer adoption, with a number of respondents indicating noticeable drops in direct enquiries about drug origins or authenticity as well as adverse drug reactions.

For companies that focus on building consumer confidence and trust in the drug mart, Mobile Authentication is a must. Consumers of wholesome drugs are increasingly using mobile devices to manage their quality or otherwise of their drug use in their daily lives and are looking to other organization especially those in the food sector and other consumable to provide a similar level of access to their information through mobile device.

And largely as a response to a growing consumer demand, many respondents suggest that they expect to see companies in the food chain developing codes for verifying the quality of their food in the open mart. By taking early steps in the evolution of mobile authentication scheme, NAFDAC is able to gain valuable experience

More so, mobile authentication scheme have forced many drug companies to reconsider their traditional business practices within and outside the country.  Across the industry, our study found that players are quickly moving to consolidate their position and capture larger part of the consumer confidence.

Innovators take the lead

In mobile authentications system, a small number of companies are driving ahead with developing consistent codes to brandish their credentials as compliers and gain competitive advantage; some for example, are already running coding system in their batch production within their own companies.  For these companies, these batch coding are a critical step toward gaining better understanding of consumer preferences, trend and challenges.

But according to our research, some companies are still not convinced about the benefit of Mobile Authentication System. At the root of the debate is whether consumers will see enough value in Mobile Authentication System that they push adoption level to a point where off the shelf drugs without authentication codes will be rejected by consumers.  As one respondent puts it, consumers don’t always act as logically as you think they will in the market place.

In spite of this, the success achieved so far by the National Agency for Food Drug Administration and Control NAFDAC, SMS services is largely the result of the commitment of the government to make good use of the growing mobile telephone network and the enabling regulatory environment, as expressed in the Nigerian National Broadband Plan 2013 – 2018, and its own health objectives, which is to increase the level of health awareness among the population. The effective implementation of the services has also been driven by the sustained cooperation and coordination of activities between the NAFDAC, the telecommunications regulator, and the mobile operators that contribute to the project as part of their corporate responsibility efforts.

But as manufacturers struggle to move ahead in this constantly changing technology and competitive environment, it will be critical for them to understand not only their own objectives, but also those of their regulators, network providers and most importantly their consumers.

It seems clear from the foregoing that Mobile Authentication System is set to transform the regulatory landscape. On offer are host of potential benefits and opportunities that have the power to not just protect the average consumer, but to boost consumer confidence and trust. For manufacturers that are still standing on the sideline of the race for Mobile Authentication System solution, this is a critical juncture; continued delay may risk the loss of market share and revenue and market position to competitors.

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