Blockchain to Save 1.5 million lives by Ending Counterfeit Medicine

Counterfeit Industry rescued by Blockchain?

Take a second to really internalize this: your child is suffering from some fatal disease, and you’re worried you might lose your child. But you feel somewhat relaxed because you bought medicine for your child that you are sure will help because it was prescribed by the topmost and trusted doctor in your city. Fast forward to a few weeks later, and you continue to pray that your child gains health again. In fact, the opposite occurs. Your child got sicker as weeks went by. How could this be? Turns out the “best doctor in the city” gave you “medicine” that was not authentic, and was fake. This results in your child passing away.

Chances are most of us living in developed countries didn’t feel as huge of a connection to this because we either thought that 1. it isn’t a big issue where we live, or 2. it isn’t even a reality. But the truth is that this is actually an issue in countries like Canada and the U.S. and is a constant reality especially for people living in India or Africa.

Before we move forward to solve some of the worlds most important issues like Cancer, we first need to make sure that there is transparency, equal care, and safety in terms of the medicine being produced and sold to everyone. So if you weren’t already aware, welcome to the world of Counterfeiting:

The World of Counterfeiting

In Canada and the U.S., 40% of our medicine comes from outside areas, and 80% contains some sort of ingredients and compounds from outside areas. Controlling the movement of these medicines from our borders is actually very hard to control.

The counterfeit medicine market is now responsible for around 1 million deaths per year, in an industry estimated to be worth $80bn annually. In fact, the counterfeit medicine industry is estimated to be growing at twice the rate of legitimate pharmaceuticals, making it up to 25 times more lucrative than the global narcotics trade.

So it’s obvious this is a huge issue and so you might be wondering why it hasn’t been resolved yet. Because we currently have a week regulatory system and it just sucks.

Why hasn’t the problem been addressed so far?

But think about this:

What if we could track, trace and authenticate the drugs at each stage of their journey from the pharma company all the way to patients, AND create an HL7 messaging system where patients and doctors can directly prescribe medicine online and follow along with the journey. A collaborative, safe and transparent app.

How could we do this?

Answer: Blockchain.

Overview: The Supply Chain

The first, and most obvious solution provided by the blockchain is a redesign of the supply chain through it’s decentralized ledger, that is able to store a complete history of transactions on a shared database, means that we can trace a products movements across the world.

As well, with innovations, we can now track every link in the supply chain, from the manufacturer, to the distributor, to the customer, to a network that can prove the origin of the product, trace its ownership, and provide authentication.

The most unique attribute is that anyone can track information in this ledger from anywhere in the world using a smartphone which really ensures that the consumer at the end of the supply chain is receiving the product they expect to. This also places power back into the hands of the consumer, who can access the same information as retailers, transforming their understanding of the product, its origins, and the manufacturing process- allowing for more informed, and ethical, consumer choices.

For example, Walton Chain is a blockchain based company whose supply chain solution combines RFID tracking technology with the immutable and decentralized nature of the blockchain, to create real transparency and efficiencies in business for retail. They have chips which are embedded in such an item of clothing, and can constantly feed information and updates back into the blockchain- allowing for garments and products to be completely traceable, create an immutable record of all transactions.

On a high level:

  1. The manufacturer would produce the drug and mark it with a unique code (Unique Micro QR Codes?), which will be connecting to the Blockchain.
  2. The Wholesaler verifies the origin of the product, making sure the code on the code and Blockchain match up.
  3. Pharmacist and Consumer then also verify this, ensuring full transparency.

Hyperledger Frameworks

But first… what exactly are distributed ledgers?

The Main Components of Hyperledger Frameworks are:

  • An append-only distributed ledger
  • A consensus algorithm for agreeing to changes in the ledger
  • Privacy of transactions through permissioned access
  • Smart contracts to process transaction requests.

There are various different types of hyperledger frameworks that can be used for this purpose. Each one has its own unique abilities/benefits:

Hyperledger Framework 1: Iroha

Hyperledger Framework 2: Sawtooth

Hyperledger Framework 3: Fabric

Hyperledger Framework 4: Indy

Hyperledger Framework 5: Burrow

The major components of Burrow:

  • The Gateway: interfaces for systems integration and user interfaces
  • The Smart contract application engine: the integration of complex business logic
  • The Consensus Engine serves the purpose of:
    a. Maintaining the networking stack between the nodes. Ordering transactions
  • The Application Blockchain Interface (ABCI) provides interface specification for the consensus engine and smart contract application engine to connect.

HL7 Messaging Integration

There are various different types of HL7 message types which defines the purpose for the message being sent and is present in every HL7 message. Message types are identified by a three-character code, and are used in conjunction with a trigger event. An HL7 trigger event is a real-world event that initiates communication and the sending of a message, and is shown as part of the message type. Both the message type and trigger event are found in the MSH-9 field of the message.


How it could work

Through this, we will be able to connect different doctors, institutions, and patients together but in a secure way where all data is securer than it could have ever been.

Defining an HL7 Message

Most commonly used HL7 message types include:

  • ADT — Admit, Discharge, Tranfser
  • BAR — Add/change billing account
  • DFT — Detailed financial transaction
  • MDM — Medical document management
  • MFN — Master files notification
  • ORM — Order (Pharmacy/treatment)
  • ORU — Observation result (unsolicited)
  • QRY — Query, original mode
  • RAS — Pharmacy/treatment administration
  • RDE — Pharmacy/treatment encoded order
  • RGV — Pharmacy/treatment give
  • SIU — Scheduling information unsolicited

In our app, this integration will help to create a more collaborate platform which is safe, and transparent.

Blockchain Integration

This is able to help with the process from start to finish. Meaning from when the doctor asks the patient to order a drug, and the patient does, to the production, shipment and receiving of the product. Everything will be verified and run by a smart contact which will ensure no tampering has happened in between the process.

Can Blockchain do it?

Over the next few weeks, I will be working with Dr. Sukant from India, one of the top researchers in the area, and an international team of helpers to continue researching and deploying my own app which will help to track, and detect Counterfeit Medicine but also create more collaboration in the healthcare system through HL7 messages integration, and an interface with many different languages of communication.

In my eyes, a blockchain is a mechanism that can restore trust between manufacturers and consumers by empowering consumers with more transparency, knowledge, and choice- and that is where the true power lies. I look forward to bringing this to life, and seeing what it can really do.

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I’m a developer & innovator who enjoys building products and researching ways we can use AI, Blockchain & robotics to solve problems in healthcare and energy!