A significant increase in seizures of illicit pharmaceuticals by Customs in 2013

WCO report 2013 on illicite trade

The World Customs Organization (WCO) has published the illicit trade report 2013. A chapter is fully devoted to the health and illicit pharmaceuticals.

WCO member countries reported having reached 3 billion of counterfeit products in 2013, taking all products together with 1,023,376 kg of goods suspected of infringing intellectual property rights. Illicit drugs are well ahead of all other products. As a proof, electronic devices are in second place with a total of 470 million pieces.

It is clear that this represents only a tiny part of seizures. “Tricks” set up by traffickers are constantly renewed and despite insight customs of all countries, they are able to pass through the net.

In 2012, illicit pharmaceuticals accounted for 4,140,318 pieces and an estimated value of USD14,405,404. With a total of 3,044,750,738 pieces seized all products together in 2013, pharmaceuticals totalize 2,325,247,466 pieces. An acute increase in a single year. This is an alarming fact and a major public health concern.


These data were collected by 69 countries in 2013 against 58 in 2012.In 2013, China was the country of origin of illicit products (11,158 cases), almost half of all cases. Hong Kong is added to this figure an extra half or 5,954 cases for the Chinese territory.

However, India is ranked first in the number of pieces of merchandise with 2,203,272,337 pieces or 72.57%. This figure is high because of large consignment of drugs imported by African countries and the Middle East. Closely followed by China (639,203,975 pieces or 21.05%) and the United Arab Emirates (68,550,167 pieces or 2.26%).

The ” favored ” destination country in 2013 is the United States with 6,332 cases (30%) followed by Saudi Arabia (19.75%) and Italy (14.71%). It is stated that the two countries mentioned above are also countries where the figure has doubled between 2012 and 2013. All other countries are rather down.

The majority of seizures were made in mail centres, airports or seaports.

The operation Biyela

Supported by IRACM, the international operation Biyela* was a success in 2013 and totalized over 558 million drugs seized in 23 African seaports. Drugs accounted 49.2% of total goods intercepted.

The aim was to combat counterfeiting and piracy of health products. IRACM participated in the training of customs officers during the three days before the operation to ensure good results. For the following 10 days, in April 2013, targeting and seizures have occurred.

The most common method used by offenders and observed during this operation is to hide counterfeit goods at the bottom of a container, or behind legitimate goods. One of the innovations was to deliver counterfeit items in parts so that they are reassembled at the final destination, and go unnoticed during the transfer.

During this process, many pharmaceutical products were seized including antibiotics, dietary supplements, anti-malaria treatment, painkillers and anti-inflammatory treatments. But also treatments against diabetes, HIV-Aids and epilepsy. A very wide range of related long-term patients and patients of all ages. We remember that counterfeit treatments against malaria or antibiotics can develop resistance in these countries causing a dramatic danger for the concerned countries.

Once again, we thank the Customs and the WCO for their actions in the world. Their help is invaluable to patients affected by the scourge of counterfeit medicines.

(*) Biyela means “encirclement” from Zulu word.

Source : WCO

WCO Illicit trade report 2013


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