The IRACM and the World Customs Organization (WCO) have been working for three consecutive years to organize major customs operations in the fight against trafficking in counterfeit and illegal medicines in Africa. This area is one of the most affected in the world and the results of the three operations: Vice-Grips 2, Biyela 1 and Biyela 2 showed encouraging results.

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.

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Results of the three-year collaboration between IRACM and WCO