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Fighting Fake Medicines: Where Technology meets Social Justice

Muhammad Hamid Zaman |

Fighting Fake Medicines: Where Technology meets Social Justice
Kalman Zabarsky for Boston University Photography

My name is Muhammad Hamid Zaman and I am a Professor of Biomedical Engineering and International Health at Boston University.

I grew up in Islamabad, Pakistan. There were plenty of stories about counterfeit and fake medicines all around me. It was, unfortunately, accepted as one of the many problems that were part of our national fabric. I was among the fortunate ones who was never affected at a personal level, but there were plenty of people around us who had suffered, some with life-changing consequences. With poverty, corruption and lack of accountability, there was ample news but never a coordinated national campaign to address the problem.

Drug quality was an issue that had always been at the back of my mind. For me, it was not an issue of technology and innovation, but was an issue of social justice and equity. It was not until the winter of 2011/2012 that it all changed. In the worst public health crisis in the history of Pakistan, nearly 200 people died in just one week at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology in Lahore (which was my father’s hometown). The cause: administration of a substandard drug. Those who were affected were largely from low-income families and completely dependent on the public sector for their drugs. This incident was a turning point for me.

At that time, one of my research areas had been development of new technologies to address global public health problems. The goals were broad and general. The incident in Lahore changed everything. I learned that anywhere from 30-50% of the drugs in developing countries may be compromised. The incident in Lahore and plenty of other places provided me a focal point to integrate my background in chemistry, my experience in biomedical engineering and my passion for global equity, justice and welfare into solving the problem.

Over the last few years, with the help of outstanding students and research scientists, partners in the public, non-governmental and the private sector, we have been working on developing a technological platform that is affordable, easy to use, quantitative, comprehensive, portable and scalable. Our technology, PharmaChk, is currently being developed and has received enormous enthusiasm from multiple stake-holders around the world. Scientific American recently named it one of the top 10 technologies that will change the world.

My aim is to save the lives of the most vulnerable. What keeps me up at night is the passion to ensure that no one suffers because of a poor quality drug, regardless of age, gender, economic situation or location. PharmaChk aims to save lives by testing for both substandard and counterfeit drugs and does so while keeping the local economic, social and cultural constraints in mind. Our approach is to work with local and global partners, in and outside the technological sphere, and to do our bit in making the world a safer and a better place.


Using PharmaChk to screen for poor quality and fake medicines

Using PharmaChk to screen for poor quality and fake medicines

Professor Zaman will join Fight the Fakes partners at the African Regulatory Conference, April 27-29, to open the Fight the Fakes reception in Dakar.

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