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How Nigeria’s Chekkit sealed deal to tackle counterfeit meds in Afghanistan with a pitch

The Afghanistan government through Fantom Foundation, a platform for distributed ledgers and decentralised networks, has enlisted the help of a Nigerian-based health technology platform, Chekkit to address the challenge of counterfeit medicines in the country.

The memorandum of understanding (MOU) Chekkit signed with Fantom on Tuesday, is a fully-funded three-month pilot that enables the Nigerian health tech to track and verify all drugs sold in the country using blockchain.

Oluwatosin Adelowo, co-founder of Chekkit told BusinessDay it was a case of being at the right place at the right time.

Chekkit was founded in 2018 to provide anti-counterfeiting solutions to Nigeria’s notorious problem of fake drugs and products. However, although the counterfeiting industry has been a major headache, not many organisations like to admit they have a counterfeiting problem, and many of those who do don’t think it is their problem to combat. The pressure from the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration (NAFDAC) is already too much for some companies.

Hence, for a startup like Chekkit it could be difficult convincing organisations that they need an anti-counterfeit solution driven by blockchain to make more profit. That comes with extra cost.

In 2019, Chekkit said it was able to execute 3 pilots of its solution with Indomie, Nivea, and Flour Mills (FMN Plc). Only one was a paid pilot that earned Chekkit $3,500 in revenue for the year.

“In 2020 so far, we have more than doubled that amount making $11,000 till this very date and counting,” Adelowo said. “As a matter of fact, we deployed our USSD and SMS survey and engagement solution for the AfricaCDC and African Union in the fight against Covid19.”

The pitch

In February 2020, Chekkit was named among 12 startups selected into the 8th cohort of the Merck Accelerator program. Members of the cohort were selected from all over the world with Chekkit being the only one selected from Africa.

As fate will have it, Fantom Foundation, one of the sponsors of the program was already in talks with the Afghanistan government proposing to solve several of their problems using blockchain. The government had identified health as one of the key sectors deserving of disruptions.

It was at that point that Chekkit pitched at the AfricArena Blockchain challenge held in Cape Town, recalls Adelowo. Fantom Foundation sponsored the challenge so they had a team at the event as well as someone on the judging panel.

“After hearing our pitch, they were impressed and brought us into the conversation with the Afghan ministry of health,” Adelowo said. So, as you can see, we didn’t quite start out with Afghanistan in mind but we saw an opportunity and we took it.”

Like Africa, Asian countries like Afghanistan are the hardest hit by the problem of counterfeit goods. For context, the Afghanistan Ministry of Health registered a total of 450 foreign pharmaceutical suppliers to cater for the country’s 31 million people in 2015, which makes it too much to manage. Comparatively, India with a population of more than 1.2 billion only has 100 registered foreign medicine suppliers.

The plan for the Afghan market is that after a successful pilot, the pharmaceutical companies that produce for the Afghanistan market will become Chekkit customers. They will be the ones to pay for Chekkit’s technology as part of the regulations set by the health ministry.

How the company has fared so far

In terms of Nigerians who have used its solution, Cheeky has had about 200,000 hits on its codes. The entire traffic has come from USSD.

“In the coming months, we will be deepening our footing in Nigeria as we already have agreements with Merck Nigeria for our anti-counterfeit labels to go on quite a number of products for the next 8 – 9 months while Sumec Firman will also be using our labels for Generators,” said an excited Adelowo.

The company also recently completed a GSI certification which makes Chekkit compliant with the recent direction NAFDAC is heading in terms of food and drug traceability in Nigeria.

Chekkit plans to release a flagship Mobile App in the Nigerian market in the second week of September.

“We are in the growth stage, haven’t raised investment yet, and we have been mainly funded from revenue and grants most of which came from accelerator programs and awards. We are currently raising a $300k round,” Adelowo said.

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