$40m-worth of illicit medicines seized in Africa

Hand squeezing worldAn enforcement operation spearheaded by the World Customs Organization has led to the seizure of 82m doses of illicit medicines in Africa.

The haul - which included antimalarials, antiparasitic drugs, antibiotics, cough syrups, contraceptives and infertility treatments - has an estimated value of more than $40m, said the WCO.

"These results are alarming and serve as a reminder of the scale of the traffic in illicit medicines in Africa and the danger this illicit trade represents to consumer health and safety," said the agency in a statement.

Operation VICE GRIPS 2 was involved 16 African nations - Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania and Togo - and was conducted simultaneously at major seaports on the East and West coasts of Africa from 11 to 20 July.

All told, 110 maritime containers were searched in the operation and more than three quarters (84) were found to contain counterfeit or illicit products, with the biggest haul intercepted in Angola, Togo, Cameroon and Ghana.

Most of the illegal items were found to have originated from South and East Asia and the Middle East, according to the WCO.

The operation made use of the WCO's IPM (Interface Public Member) tool, a platform introduced in 2010 which allows customs officers to identify counterfeit goods by accessing a genuine/fake database of product information provided by brand owners.

The operation - which will be rolled out in other territories in the coming months - served as a means to demonstrate the worth of IPM and to encourage its adoption by customs organisations around the world, said the WCO.

It also provided an opportunity to train customs officers in risk-analysis and targeting approaches, detect new vectors and fraud techniques so that appropriate control methods can be put in place, and encourage collaboration between customs and other groups such as rights holders and regulatory agencies.

The WCO was also a major player in Operation Pangea V - which cracked down on illicit online pharmacies last month - as well as Operation Meerkat which disrupted the trafficking of cigarettes, tobacco and alcohol in East and Southern Africa in July.

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