Record seizure of fake drugs across Africa testifies to alarming situation

A joint press conference with the World Customs Organization was held in Paris on June 13, 2013 to announce the results of the intervention.

BIYELA 1 at a glance

  • Dates
    March 27 to April 10, 2013.
    Three days’ training from March 27 to 29 in Lomé, Togo, followed by 10 days of customs interventions from April 1 to 10.
  • 23 countries
    23 countries in Northern, Southern, Western and Eastern Africa: Algeria, Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Congo Republic, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Djibouti, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal , South Africa, Tanzania and Togo.
  • 23 seaports
    Abidjan, Algiers, Banjul, Casablanca, Conakry, Cotonou, Dakar, Dar es Salaam, Djibouti, Douala, Durban, Lagos, Libreville, Lomé, Luanda, Maputo, Matadi, Mombasa, Pointe Noire, Port Louis, Tema, Toamasina and Walvis Bay.
  • Intervention
    146 containers and over 1 billion products were intercepted. 559.5 million illicit and/or counterfeit pharmaceuticals were seized, i.e. 49% of the products intercepted.
    The total value of the products seized was estimated at more than $275 million[1].
  • Origin
    49% of the products intercepted came from China, 23% from the United Arab Emirates and 9% from India.

[1] Approximate value $0.50/drug

Record seizure of counterfeit medicines by 23 customs agencies in African

In October 2012, the World Customs Organization (WCO) and International Institute of Research Against Counterfeit Medicines (IRACM) announced the results of operation VICE GRIPS 2. 82 million pills posing a threat to public health were intercepted over five days in 16 different African ports. This operation specifically targeted maritime shipments likely to contain counterfeit health products.

In view of this success, the WCO, with the support of IRACM, decided to launch the first “BIYELA” operation in 23 African seaports:

  • South Africa (Durban Harbour)
  • Algeria (Port of Algiers)
  • Angola (Port of Luanda)
  • Benin (Autonomous Port of Cotonou)
  • Cameroon (Port of Douala)
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo (Port of Matadi)
  • Congo Republic (Port of Pointe Noire)
  • Ivory Coast (Port of Abidjan)
  • Djibouti (Port of Djibouti)
  • Gabon (Port of Libreville)
  • Gambia (Port of Banjul)
  • Ghana (Port of Tema)
  • Guinea (Port of Conakry)
  • Kenya (Port of Mombasa)
  • Madagascar (Port of Toamasina)
  • Morocco (Port of Casablanca)
  • Mauritius (Port of Port-Louis)
  • Mozambique (Port of Maputo)
  • Namibia (Port of Walvis Bay)
  • Nigeria (Port of Lagos)
  • Senegal (Port of Dakar)
  • Tanzania (Port of Dar es Salaam)
  • and Togo (Port of Lome)
In 10 days, over 550 million counterfeit health products seized, worth more than $275 million.

Customs officers worked for 10 days in the seaports, intercepting more than a billion illicit and/or counterfeit products, of which more than 550 million pharmaceuticals. These included malaria drugs[1], antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, diabetes drugs, epilepsy drugs, treatments for erectile dysfunction, dietary supplements and other health products. These products, some of which contain potentially lethal substances, entered Africa illegally, either smuggled or without a valid marketing authorization (MA).

The total value of the pharmaceuticals intercepted is estimated at over $275 million. These results are sad proof of the extent of pharmaceutical trafficking in Africa and the danger it poses to the health of African patients.

Before the operation, local customs officials were trained for 3 days to spot what would most likely be counterfeit products. They also worked with WCO experts in the field to familiarize themselves with new investigative methods.

BIYELA 1 in 2013 yielded more significant results than VICE GRIPS 2 in 2012, although the two operations are not comparable. Both were deployed in Africa but BIYELA 1 covered 23 seaports, approximately double the previous operation and lasted 10 days, compared to 5 in 2012.


See press release “Record seizure of illegal medicines in Africa. WCO and IRACM warn of dangerous threat to the health and safety of Africans”. 

[1] The WHO estimates that nearly 80% of malaria cases are contracted in Africa. Resistance to malaria drugs may stem from the growing number of counterfeit treatments, which cause mosquitoes to mutate. If artemisinin resistance spreads to other vast geographic areas, the consequences for public health could be very serious as no other substitute antimalarial treatments will be available for at least 5 years.