AFRICA – Rwanda and Nigeria became the first countries in Africa to authenticate vaccines using GS1 barcoding technology in ongoing global efforts to tackle the global counterfeit medicines industry, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has announced on its website.

In July 2022, the Traceability and Verification System (TRVST) was launched in Nigeria and Rwanda with the first GS1 scans marking a milestone in patient safety against counterfeit and substandard medicines.

The TRVST is an important addition to the national health supply chain and health information system investments to improve efficiency in sharing data across the chain, strengthen data quality, extend data visibility, and reduce costs of data capture and transformation.

In addition, the initiative will complement other global efforts led by partners to digitalize public health supply chain systems as well as help countries to strengthen supply planning and demand capacity with the objective of ensuring greater levels of access to health products and treatments.  

The TRVST relies on a global repository, built by SolidSoft Reply, that stores health product information, such as Global Trade Item, serial and batch numbers, as well as production and expiry dates. This data is fed into TRVST by medical product manufacturers.

UNICEF announced that COVID-19 vaccines were the first products used in the Traceability and Verification System thanks to the collaboration of Johnson & Johnson which provided the first batches of data into the repository.

The agency said that the TRVST started with COVID-19 vaccine data to ensure patient safety and address the urgent risk of falsified or diverted vaccines, adding that the quality of pharmaceutical products in the countries are now guaranteed via implementation of track and trace across the nation.

TRVST is now expected to scale up and expand to routine vaccines and other health products to treat HIV, tuberculosis, reproductive health supplies, anti-malarial items and other essential medicines,” UNICEF notes.

The agency further said that scanning using GS1 technology is a first step to improve patient safety and to address US$30B counterfeit medicines industry in low- and middle-income countries, noting that the production of falsified and sub-standard vaccines and related supplies has ramped up worldwide.

The public health milestone was announced during the launch of the Traceability and Verification System, a new collaboratively designed solution that allows countries to verify the authenticity of health products and track and trace them through their supply chain.

UNICEF said TRVST is being developed under the Verification and Traceability Initiative (VTI), a multi-stakeholder partnership composed of UNICEF, Gavi, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Global Fund, USAID, national regulatory authorities in Nigeria and Rwanda, Vital Wave, and the World Bank.

In addition, the agency and VTI partners including national regulatory authorities in low- and middle-income countries, vaccine manufacturers, private businesses and development partners have been working to expand the TRVST by building health product verification and traceability capabilities.

UNICEF highlights that the Verification and Traceability Initiative aims to increase global coordination and response against falsified medical products especially in low- and middle-income countries, adding that the first serialized vaccine scan in Africa marks milestone in tackling falsified medical products.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, counterfeit medicines are estimated to have caused up to 169,000 deaths of children under 5 suffering from pneumonia and up to 116,000 deaths from falsified medicines to treat malaria.

The agency of the United Nations revealed that falsified and sub-standard vaccines and related supplies contribute to antimicrobial resistance while observing that the products lead to a loss of confidence in medicines, healthcare providers and health systems.

Substandard and falsified products are a growing global issue, posing major health, social and economic risks. They endanger the lives of those that we are mandated to protect,” said Etleva Kadilli, Director of UNICEF Supply Division.

Etleva Kadilli reaffirmed that UNICEF is proud to be at the forefront of global efforts, along with partners, to ensure higher levels of verification controls, ensuring patient access to safe, effective and quality-assured vaccines and other medicines.

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