According to reports, the World Customs Organisation (WCO) has seized 113 million antimalarial, anti-inflammatory and antibiotic tablets bound for Africa over a period of just two weeks. Counterfeit drugs have seemed to affect many countries and regions of the world over but Africa seems to be particularly under attack.
WCO’S Ana Hinojosa said that, “It’s just a drop in the ocean of what is trafficked on a daily basis through Africa’s largest ports but it gives an idea of the problem, though the full extent is difficult to quantify it is scary.”
The most significant seizures were made in Nigeria, Benin, Kenya and Togo, but it is the drugs’ countries of origin that is most startling: 97% of fraudulent pharmaceutical products are shipped from China or India. According to IRACM’s Bernar Leroy, among the medicines discovered by African customs, essential drugs like antimalaria tablets, anti-inflammatories and antibiotics have cropped up.
Poor shipping conditions, repackaging and the production of outright fake drugs are among the numerous methods by which medicines are counterfeited. This leads to medications being ineffective, dangerous or, at worse, lethal. Even treatments for serious illnesses like cancer are not spared and more than 2 million doses of medication were seized during the lat operation.
IRACM’s Jean-David Levitte explains that, “These fake drugs cause hundreds of thousands of deaths every year and can also have a more collateral effect, as patients can “develop immunity to genuine treatments for certain diseases, like tuberculosis.”
The fight against counterfeiters is struggling due to the weaknesses in the authority’s capability to intervene. African countries often impose more lenient punishments on traffickers. Most importantly, the criminals are aware of the loopholes in the legal system that allows them to bypass punishment. For example, a container cannot be opened during a customs operation without the importer being present.
The counterfeited medicine issue has been long awaiting to get highlighted but remains in the bottom of the political agenda. It was during the 27th annual Africa-France summit in Bamako, Mali, on 16 January when the heads of state and government pledged “further solidarity in their efforts against terrorism and illegal trafficking.”
This commitment was also made in the summit’s final declaration, which highlighted “the serious dangers, especially for its people’s health, that the growing trafficking of fake medicines, developed by transnational criminal organisations, poses to Africa”.
According to Bernard Leroy, there needs to be a change of course as “trafficking medication can be a threat to society because it provides traffickers with an estimated 10 to 20 times more revenue than the trafficking of narcotics.”