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South Africa

African Governments Partner To Combat Trafficking Of Fake Medicines

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Written by Peter Pedroncelli

In this Thursday, July 21, 2016 file photo, residents of the Kisenso district receive yellow fever vaccines, in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. Image: AP Photo/Jerome Delay, file

Around 42 percent of all fake medicines reported to the World Health Organization between 2013 and 2017 were from Africa.

Counterfeit medicines are a serious public health problem for the people of Africa, with an estimated 100,000 people dying every year in Africa as a result of fake medicines.

In January, seven African heads of state — from Togo, Uganda, Congo, Niger, Senegal, Ghana, and the Gambia — gathered in Togo to commit to greater cooperation in criminalizing the trafficking of fake medicine, according to Quartz.

African countries are joining forces to create the African Medicines Agency, a specialized agency to regulate medical products in Africa, TodaynewsAfrica reports.

So far, 14 African countries have signed on including Guinea, Seychelles, and Niger.

Some countries, including Benin and Burkina Faso, are strengthening their local pharmaceutical regulators or creating new agencies to better prevent the flow of counterfeit medication, according to TheAfricaReport.

Benin, for example, created a National Agency for Pharmaceutical Regulation in September 2019.

Legislation is also being developed to make punishments for trafficking more severe. In Togo, traffickers can be sentenced to 20 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $85,000, NewVision reports.

Efforts to identify and seize fake medicine across West Africa are bearing fruit. 

In January, seven tons of counterfeit pharmaceuticals were found and destroyed in Gabon in a joint operation by agencies within the country’s government. In February 2019, a similar operation was responsible for almost 30 tons of fake medicines seized in Burkina Faso.

Porous borders, weak legislation, and poor healthcare infrastructure provide the ideal conditions for the trafficking of fake medicines in Africa. 

Up to 90 percent of pharmaceuticals on the continent are imported, which amplifies the problem. Many of these fake medicines come from China, India, and Nigeria. 

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The business of selling fake medicines can be incredibly lucrative. 

Syndicates selling fake antibiotics, antimalarials, painkillers, and syringes can make around $500,000 from an investment of around $1,000, according to the Paris-based Institut de Recherche Anti-Contrefaçon de Médicaments

The trafficking of fake medicines now represents a $200 billion market worldwide, up from $80 billion in 2010.

“Its financial return is greater than that of drugs, and the risks [to the traffickers] are almost nil,” former anti-terrorism judge Jean-Louis Bruguière said.

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