Operation Biyela 2: Record interceptions of products that are a threat to consumer health and safety

Joint press conference IRACM and WCO
on 22 September 2014, Paris


Operation Biyela 2

113 million illicit pharmaceutical products that are potentially dangerous for health

Dates of the operation
From 21 May to 4 June 2014.
3 days of training followed by 10 days of customs interception.

Concerned regions
South, West and East of Africa, or 14 countries.

Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo,  Gabon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo.

Sea ports
Abidjan, Cotonou, Dakar, Dar es Salam, Douala, Durban, Cape Town, Libreville, Lome, Luanda, Maputo, Matadi, Mombasa, Tema, Walvis Bay.

The health and safety of Africans are seriously threatened by the scourge of illicit and/or counterfeit pharmaceutical products, many of which are dangerous. Faced with a rise in this extremely worrisome illegal trafficking, customs authorities are on the front lines when it comes to stopping illegal imports and protecting consumers.

The International Institute of Research Against Counterfeit Medicines (IRACM) and the World Customs Organization (WCO) decided to join forces for the third successive year in order to conduct a sweeping large scale customs operation, called « operation Biyela 2 », to fight the trafficking of products that are a threat to the health and safety of consumers in 14 Sub-Saharan, West and East African nations.

Operation Biyela 2 mobilized 14 African customs organizations[1] for a ten day period (26 May to 4 June 2014), with the aim of carrying out simultaneous inspections of shipments of goods that could potentially contain illicit and/or counterfeit pharmaceutical drugs that pose a threat to the health of local populations.

Among 18 million articles intercepted, 113,719,528 were illegal drugs and/or counterfeit, or 95% of the articles. The majority of thèse products were intercepted in Benin, Tanzania, and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Most of the intercepted shipments came from either China or India.

A majority of the pharmaceutical drugs seized by African customs authorities are related to primary care (32% analgesics, 17% anti-inflammatory drugs, 5% antibiotics), as well as drug therapy (17% of the intercepted products were anti-tuberculosis drugs).

The operation also resulted in, for the first time, significant detection of illicit veterinary products: more than one million intravenous drugs in Benin, more than one million tablets and vials in Mozambique, and more than 100,000 intravenous drugs in Togo.

The level of trafficking in illicit and counterfeit medical products in Africa is constantly worsening.

As with all illegal activities, it is particularly difficult to precisely quantify the scope of trafficking in counterfeit medications. However, three years of cooperation between the World Customs Organization (WCO) and the International Institute of Research Against Counterfeit Medicines (IRACM) do provide at least a partial picture of how this trafficking is unfolding in a number of African nations.

Over the course of a more than three year partnership, the three operations that were conducted in major African sea ports (Vice Grips 2, Biyela and Biyela 2) allowed for the interception of almost 756 million illicit and/or counterfeit pharmaceutical products valued at more than 370 million US dollars, and prevented these products from reaching consumers.

The frequency of cases and the size of the batches intercepted by the customs, the increase in types of pharmaceutical products involved (which range from cough medicine to insulin, contraceptives and antibiotics), the “quality” of the counterfeit products, the ever changing techniques used by drug counterfeiters, and the trafficking routes involved: all of these indicators are in the process of being analyzed – and suggest that far from diminishing, the traffic in counterfeit drugs is increasing steadily.

Customs operations of this nature are absolutely essential. Customs authorities are the first line of defense against the scourge of counterfeit medications; but this fight also needs to be carried out on other fronts, particularly in the judicial system and in legislatures. We are dealing here with scoundrels, Mafiosi, and unscrupulous traffickers. It is essential that all national and international authorities at long last become aware of this problem and take action to protect the lives of patients,” says IRACM director, Bernard Leroy.

A war against trafficking in counterfeit medications cannot and should not unfold at national borders alone.

Like all criminal activities, trafficking in counterfeit medications takes root in situations where it is most likely to flourish: namely in places where legislatures are unable, or unwilling to cope with the situation, where legal assistance is non-existent, where population is not well-informed, where medications are in short supply, where supply chains are complex, where regulatory and inspection resources are lacking, where corruption is rife, etc. In light of these various factors, it is clear that if action is merely confined to national borders, we have no hope of winning the war against counterfeit medications.

The International Institute of Research Against Counterfeit Medicines (IRACM) is actively in the process of creating model laws aimed at helping the countries affected to trace lines of supply, bring traffickers to justice, and seize their assets, and thus better fight trafficking in counterfeit medications.

Upload the files:

– Press release « Operation Biyela 2: Third series of record interceptions of  products that are a threat to consumer health and safety. IRACM and the WCO are proactively fighting against illicit and/or counterfeit pharmaceutical drugs in Africa.
Figures of the operation Biyela 2
Results of the three-year collaboration between IRACM and WCO

[1] Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania and Togo.

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