A team of Nigerian schoolgirls win top Silicon Valley prize for a fake-drug detector

The girls plan to partner with NAFDAC to create a database of certified pharmaceutical products. Net photo.

Five Nigerian teenagers won first place in the junior division of the Technovation World Pitch Summit held in San Jose, California last week with an app that has the potential to save thousands of lives.

Their award was also celebrated on Twitter by Nigeria’s vice president, Yemi Osinbajo.

Iridescent’s 2018 Technovation World Pitch Summit is the world’s largest tech entrepreneurship program for girls. The program invites girls from ages ten to eighteen from all over the world to identify a problem in their community and then challenges the girls to solve it.

Team Save-a-Soul was selected from 2,000 mobile app developers to represent Africa at the pitch competition. Their winning mobile app, FD Detector (Fake Drug Detector), tackles the problem of counterfeit pharmaceutical products in Nigeria. The team won ahead of rivals from the US, Spain, Turkey, Uzbekistan and China.

The girls’ app addresses a real life and death issue in Nigeria. The regulator, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), has struggled for years to close in on a rampant fake drug market. Though the exact number of counterfeit drugs is contested, many malaria deaths in Nigeria are have been linked to the use fake medicines. African countries are the dumping ground for 40% of the world’s recorded counterfeit drugs. Others have addressed this problem as well with technology, including mPedigree, a Ghanaian company founded by 2015 Quartz Africa Innovator, Bright Simons.

The girls plan to partner with NAFDAC to create a database of certified pharmaceutical products. Once authorized by the agency, a pharmaceutical company can upload its drugs onto the platform and be admitted to the database. Consequently, anyone with a smartphone camera, both health professionals and consumers, can scan the barcode of a drug and the app will let then them know if the drug is real or fake and display its expiration date. The app also allows users to report cases of fake drugs directly to NAFDAC.

The team is made up of five girls from Regina Pacies Secondary School Onitsha, Anambra State: Promise Nnalue, Jessica Osita, Nwabuka Ossai, Adaeze Onuigbo and Vivian Okoye.

The girls were mentored by a 2017 Mandela Washington Fellow, Uchenna Onwuaegbu-Ugwu who founded a STEM Center focused on implementing STEM education in schools for children and youth from ages 3-18, especially girls in rural communities in eastern Nigeria.

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