The World Customs Organization (WCO) and the International Institute for Research Against Counterfeit Medicines (IRACM) recently announced massive seizure in the fight against fake medicines on the African continent.

This is a new record seizure of 113 million illicit and potentially dangerous pharmaceutical products, which took place in the context of Operation ACIM (Action against Counterfeit and Illicit Medicines) in September 2016.

The number of seizures made in joint IRACM-WCO operations has now reached dramatic proportions, with almost 900 million counterfeit and illicit medicines seized at the borders of the continent.

Essential treatments make up for the bulk of fake pharmaceutical products

Data from the joint operations between the WCO and the IRACM show that the situation is worrying in regards to illicit goods in Africa. To tackle this issue, IRACM and WCO elected to continue their partnership and unite their forces by organizing a fourth field operation.

Operation ACIM mobilised 16 African customs administrations* over a ten-day period, from 5 to 14 September 2016, to inspect simultaneously, in the main ports on the continent, cargoes identified as likely to contain illicit or counterfeit pharmaceutical products posing a dangerous threat to local populations.

Some 113 million illicit and potentially dangerous medicines were seized, with a total estimated value of €52 million. The biggest interceptions were in Nigeria, Benin, Kenya and Togo. Among the medicines uncovered by the African customs officials, most were essential treatments: antimalarial drugs, anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, and analgesics, as well as gastro-intestinal medicines.

Even if most of the seizures were of everyday medicines, anti-cancer drugs, with over 2 million doses discovered, are also included in this tragic record.

“Of the 243 maritime containers inspected, 150 contained illicit or counterfeit products. The need for greater scrutiny of this type of fraud is no longer to be demonstrated and I hope that this operation and the mobilization it has triggered on the side of Customs administrations, other agencies involved in the control of these products and among rights holders will have a lasting effect”, said Kunio Mikuriya, Secretary General of the WCO.

In four operations, nearly 900 million pharmaceutical products were seized – an alarming figure!

Since 2012, the four large-scale operations led in the major African sea ports have led to the interception of nearly 869 million counterfeit or illicit medicines, of an estimated value of €400 million. All these potentially dangerous medicines have been withdrawn from the market instead of being sold to the African populations.

As with any illicit activity, it is particularly difficult to give an accurate estimation of the scale of the fake medicine trade. However, through the results of the four operations led by the WCO and IRACM, it is possible to imagine the actual scale of this traffic on the continent.

“This type of customs action is vital. Customs are the first rampart against the invasion of illicit medicines, but the battle must also be fought elsewhere, particularly at political, judicial and legislative levels. The clock is ticking, both for dangerous medicines entering the country and, especially, for the victims of these medicines.

“We face unscrupulous traffickers who know that at the moment they are very difficult to trace. This is why IRACM is working actively to train field agents and introduce specific model laws aimed at increasing the fight against fake medicine trafficking,” explained Bernard Leroy, Director of IRACM.