Nigerian Girls Win Tech Challenge With Counterfeit Drug Detection App

By Bryan Le 08/20/18

The teen team hope that their app can stem the sale of counterfeit medications in their home country.

Team Save-A-Soul from Nigeria won the Technovation Challenge.
Team Save-A-Soul wants to help people get the real medications they need. Photo via Facebook

A team consisting of five teenage girls from Nigeria has won Silicon Valley’s 2018 Technovation Challenge by building an app that detects counterfeit drugs.

The app, called FD-Detector, works by scanning the medicine’s barcode and checking its authenticity and expiration date.

The victory comes especially as a surprise considering Team Save-A-Soul has limited experience or technological skills—five months prior, one of the team’s members, Jessica Osita, had never even used a computer, let alone browsed the Internet.

“I feel very excited and relieved. I'm extremely proud of myself," Osita said to CNN.

The teenaged team, composed of Promise Nnalue, Jessica Osita, Nwabuaku Ossai, Adaeze Onuigbo and Vivian Okoye, hope that their app can stem the sale of counterfeit medications in their home country.

Osita herself had a personal brush with fake drugs. Her brother was involved in an accident and died after being given fake drugs.

“My brother died from fake drugs. I'm very motivated by the death of my brother to solve this problem,” she revealed. “With this app, we will relieve the burden. I feel very excited.”

She one day hopes to become a pharmacist. “I want to produce genuine drugs,” she said.

To claim victory, the team had to beat representatives from all over the world, including the United States, Turkey, Uzbekistan, and China, in the finals.

“People are calling us celebrities and taking pictures with us. I'm very happy. We could not have done this without our mentor. She really believed in us and encouraged us,” Nnalue told interviewers.

Their mentor, Uchenna Ugwu, introduced computers and coding to the girls through her organization, Edufun Technik, which seeks to bring STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to the underprivileged children of Anambra State in Nigeria.

“They have experienced so many firsts. They were entering a flight for the first time. The girls were scared and overwhelmed. They asked me, ‘How can we compete with these countries who have been using tech for a very long time?’” Ugwu recalled. “I told them ‘it's not how long ago you started, but how well you do. I'm so proud of them because they were so determined to learn. They were not the most talented in the coding class but they were the most determined. They stuck with the classes when a lot of their peers dropped out.”

The girls’ project could potentially have a huge impact back home, where Nigerian officials have long been battling counterfeit drugs.

Just last June, the Nigerian National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control had to destroy nearly $10 million in counterfeit drugs.

Fake drugs are also a problem in the United States. Lethal counterfeit opioid painkillers are growing in the black market. Music legend Prince died after taking counterfeit Vicodin that was laced with fentanyl.

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter