The government plans to track and authenticate the drugs at each stage of their journey from pharmaceutical companies to the patient’s home.
New Delhi: The NITI Aayog has planned to put the entire stock of medicines made in India on blockchain, in an effort to combat fake and spurious drugs.
The government has hired US-based tech giant Oracle to implement the pilot project and work is expected to begin by November.
The problem is not small: The Washington-based International Policy Network says over 7 lakh people die every year across the world due to the consumption of fake or spurious drugs.
A recent report by the World Health Organization estimates that 20 per cent of all drugs sold in India are fake. It also states that 35 per cent of all the counterfeit drugs sold worldwide originate from India — a damning statistic given the country’s rapidly developing pharma sector.
India’s pharma market is the world’s third largest in terms of volume, and is valued at Rs 1,80,000 crore, of which counterfeit drugs account for over Rs 35,000 crore.
To block the flow of such drugs, the government plans to track and authenticate them at each stage of their journey from pharmaceutical companies to the patient’s home.
“We are looking at the end-to-end implementation of this technology — from the manufacturer to the consumer — which will make the leakage or infusion of spurious or fake drugs into the system impossible,” Anna Roy, an advisor at NITI Aayog, told ThePrint.
“Soon, the patient will be able to trace the movement of the drug he is consuming. He can scan the barcode on the medicine pack to see how many hands the drug has passed through before reaching his doorstep.”
What is blockchain?
Blockchain technology is a virtual register in which transactions between users are stored in a secure, permanent and verifiable way. The data relating to the exchanges are saved inside blocks. It creates an endless chain of data blocks that allow for all the transactions to be traced and verified.
One of the biggest advantages of blockchain is the extent of security. According to cyber security experts, once a transaction is certified and saved within one of the blocks, no one can tamper or edit the information saved. The information also gets time-stamped.
How govt plans to implement it
Initially, the technology will track pharmaceutical firms, stockists, pharmacists, and consumers. In the second phase, the government plans to involve hospitals to record drug deliveries on a blockchain.
Unique identification codes or numbers may be allotted to every single medicine, which can then be tracked through the entire supply chain using blockchain. At each step of the distribution process, technology will affirm the provenance and authenticity of the batch of the drug.
The government is also considering radio-frequency identification or RFID tags to track the life history of the product.
“Oracle is building the technology for us while bearing in mind the requirements of the huge Indian pharma market, along with the patient profile. We are likely to involve several other IT companies as we scale up the project by 2019,” Roy added.
However, she refused to divulge details about the cost of the project, saying: “We are finalising the system. The cost would depend on the method we finalise after the completion of the pilot project.”
Experts welcome the plan
Analysts like Sujay Shetty, leader — pharmaceutical and life sciences at PwC India, are confident that blockchain will help crack down on counterfeit and spurious drugs.
“Application of blockchain technology is the best option when it comes to supply chain management or fighting the challenge of fake drugs. The model will bust the racket of fake drugs entering the supply chain,” Shetty said.
Bejon Misra, founder of the not-for-profit Patient Safety and Access Patient Safety and Access Initiative of India Foundation, said it would be a challenge to implement the plan.
“Though it is a good idea, it will be a challenge for the government to connect over a lakh drug manufacturers, their warehouses, and chemists across the country,” Misra said.