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RxScanner to detect counterfeit drugs

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By Mercy Kelani

U.S and Nigerian researchers are set to end fake drugs through novel technology.

A team, consisting of researchers from the United States (U.S.) and Nigeria, have been organized to identify and remove unlawful suppliers of drugs, through the novel technology, thereby enabling a reduction in the occurrence of adverse effects and illnesses derived from low-quality drugs. The team members include Prof. Chimezie Anyakora of Bloom Public Health, Nigeria; Dr. Elisa Maria Maffioli of the University of Michigan School of Public Health, U.S; and Dr. Marie C Montas, Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University, U.S.

According to the researchers, inspectors and pharmacies in Nigeria would retain the supply chain for citizens with the use of the RxScanner, if it is proven to be cost-effective. The development of the novel technology, RxScanner, a 10x cheaper and 5x portable detection solution, was for the purpose of decentralizing drug checking along the supply chain. Through the combination of proprietary Artificial Intelligence (AI), algorithm models of drug spectral signatures, together with advanced spectroscopy, there will be an enablement of immediate drug material analysis, distinguishing sample materials instantly and within a few seconds.

Over 10 percent of drugs in developing countries are of low quality.

Prior to the development of the novel technology, available methods of laboratory analysis of drug samples have proved to be expensive, labor intensive, and time-consuming. Although, new mobile testing devices, for example, Mass Authentication Scratch Codes (MAS) and mini-labs, allows the detection of suspect samples in low-resource settings. However, they are not portable, are unable to give real-time data maps of drug flows, and do not aid the provision of a legally admissible unchangeable record with timestamps of identified bad drugs.

Prof. Anyakora, the Nigerian researcher and leader of the team, stated that this development aims at impacting over 200 million Nigerian residents. There will be a withdrawal of bad drugs from the markets, also to the benefit of the poorest. According to the research that is being made, there have been observations that over 10 percent of medicines that are available in developing countries are of extremely low quality – they are either counterfeit or substandard, and even degraded, leading to an estimation of over a million deaths yearly.

The pharmaceutical industry in Nigeria will grow to $4 billion in 10 years.

The Pharmaceutical Industry in Nigeria has been estimated to be worth about $2.5 billion in 2020 and is believed to expand to $4 billion in the next decade. The pharmaceutical market of the country is highly dependent on imports and has over 60 percent of its goods imported from India and China, while producing the remaining locally. With evidence from several studies, a large proportion of medicines in the country are either substandard or degraded. Examples are 17 percent of essential generic medicines and 30 percent of anti-Malaria.

However, BPH and Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), in a bid to curb the menace, are jointly working on a project with two major objectives – to authenticate a novel and cheaper Technology (RxScanner), in comparison to the gold standard (TruScan RM Raman Analyser) in the market, through drug testing, supported by BPH; and to evaluate the impact and cost-effectiveness of the technology through the implementation of a randomized controlled trial. The organizations are working towards the protection and improvement of the health of Africans.

The quality of 1,000 drugs will be tested with the novel technology.

The Chief of Party for Bloom Public Health, Nigeria, added that with support from BPH, the quality of 1,000 drugs, purchased in pharmacies situated in six geo-political regions, will be tested. The regions include Kano, Yola, Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, Onitsha, Lagos, and Port Harcourt. Also supported by IPA, there will be a conduction of impact evaluation in 78 pharmacies. While the novel technology (RxScanner) will randomly provide half of them, the other half will serve as a control group with no implemented intervention. After all these are done, the aggregate effectiveness of the RxScanner will be added to the costs of implementation for the conduction of a Cost-Effectiveness Analysis (CEA). The outcome would be the deciding factor on whether or not the technology is worth investing upon.


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