Humanity is currently struggling with a pandemic, caused by a virus called COVID-19. Besides, there is no guarantee that we will not face another pandemic tomorrow. Experts emphasize that this pandemic affects our psychology as well as our physiological health. Our business and domestic life, social relations and consumption habits have become quite different from the way we are used to. While the medical world struggles to deal with this newly introduced virus, governments are taking new measures every day to minimize the devastation of the pandemic. On the other hand, in almost every corner of the world, during the pandemic, numerous reports point to the lack of easy access to critical products. In this article, we will try to explain how to struggle with illegal activities such as stockpiling, counterfeiting, and black-marketeering, using product serialization in extraordinary situations.
Within this period, the number of drugs, medical, cleaning and hygiene products on all our shopping lists has increased beyond comparison with the period before the pandemic. In such cases, where consumption habits change rapidly and aggressively, it is extremely very natural that access to products is difficult. Likewise, the producers are unable to meet the increasing demand as necessary due to bottleneck that will occur at many points such as raw materials, processes, and packaging. Therefore, the accessibility of products in the market has decreased and unfortunately counterfeiting and black-marketeering activities have also increased. It is not hard to predict that these illegal activities, which exist even under normal market conditions, will reach a much more serious and dangerous level in a situation where half of the world is in quarantine.
In fact, there is a very simple solution to the problem. All products that may be subject to illegal activity need to be serialized and traceable within the market. The task of product serialization falls to manufacturers; as for traceability, states need to reform their laws and regulations.
With a simple definition, the identification of each product produced by a unique serial number is called product serialization. A very simple example of serialization is that manufacturers give each N95 mask a unique serial number (UID) and the number is printed on the product with a data matrix.
Traceability can be defined as tracking the points of a product across the entire supply chain with an electronic registration system. This electronic registration system can only be created by legislators or powerful non-governmental organizations. Because it can only be possible only upon the instruction of authority for all manufacturers to serialize their products and to enter the traceability records of all stakeholders in the market.
The pharmaceutical industry is the only industry in the world where the concepts of product serialization and traceability are completely applied. This industry has been struggling with black-marketeering and counterfeiting for years. Pharma serialization and traceability were successfully implemented in Turkey in 2012 for the first time in the world. This implementation has been an example of accelerating the publication of pharma tracking system regulations of all countries in the world. It is estimated that pharma tracking systems, which are still in their infancy in many countries, will be more important and functional after the current pandemic.
The country with the most successful implementations in serialization and traceability in the world is Turkey without hesitation. In the current situation in Turkey, end-to-end traceability implementations are made for medicines, vaccines, cigarettes, and plant protection products.
Each product produced is serialized by the manufacturer. Then each serial number is registered in an electronic data system. At the point where the product meets the consumer, the seller receives approval from the electronic data system, associates it with the consumer and performs the sale.
The three sentences above describe how the most primitive traceability system works. Even a system at this level can prevent illegal activities. You can find the product serialization and traceability processes of this system in more detail below.
Manufacturers are required to serialize their products. Serialization can be done directly on the product or on the wrappage. For extra protection, security tools (tamper-evident, security label, etc.) can be used in wrappages for the purpose of providing the consumer access to the product for the first time. Serialization is a concept that will not create bottleneck for production when properly designed with production dynamics.
The manufacturer is obliged to transfer the serial numbers of his products to the system prepared by the legislator. The serial number is very important data that guarantees that the product is manufactured by the manufacturer. The manufacturer may also record information such as the expiration date and lot number in addition to the serial number. The legislator has to guarantee the accuracy and security of the data transferred to him.
An authorization system is required at all points where the consumer purchases the product. With the help of this system, the consumer can be associated with the products purchased, the product can be removed from the sales channel, and the product can be tested for whether it is counterfeit or not.
To give a simple example, each N95 mask produced is serialized and the manufacturers are allowed to register the serial numbers of the masks into the authority’s system. In companies selling pharmacy and medical stuff, each N95 mask is associated with the consumer. Thus, consumers are prevented from buying more masks than they need.
Countries should prioritize the serialization of products and the establishment of traceability systems to ensure the management of the supply chain in exceptional circumstances with devastating effects such as a pandemic. Only this way supply chains can be guaranteed to operate healthfully.
In the process of this pandemic, in addition to the problems caused by our high-level concerns about our health, we have all witnessed numerous reports of counterfeiting, black-marketeering and stockpiling about all types of masks, gloves, thermometers, and disinfectants. My wish is that no one will encounter these kinds of problems caused by illegal activities during this and similar periods when everyone in the world is struggling for health.