Your child is feverish and hacking, so you rush to the pharmacy to buy some cough syrup. If you’re living in the United States or Germany, you trust that the bottle contains exactly what the label describes. But in the developing world, there’s a one-in-three chance the medicine you purchase will be fake.

Counterfeit drugs are a big and cruel business across much of Africa. They not only waste consumers’ money but put public health at risk. Western tools for authenticating...

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