Crackdown on falsified meds in Africa nets 12m illegal products

A pan-African enforcement operation has identified hundreds of suspects and resulted in seizures of more than 12 million illicit health products, including epilepsy medicines.

Codenamed Flash-IPPA (Illicit Pharmaceutical Products in Africa) and jointly coordinated by Interpol and Afripol, the two-month operation brought together law enforcement and drug regulatory agencies from 20 African countries to dismantle organised crime networks behind regional pharmaceutical crime.

Inspections were carried out at roadblocks, open markets, pharmacies, warehouses and other locations suspected of producing, smuggling, storing or distributing fake pharmaceuticals, with notables seizures including 2 million anticonvulsant medicines, 300,000 other epilepsy drugs, more than 208,000 COVID-19 protection masks and 1,600 rapid COVID tests.

Other commonly seized illicit medicines included antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, analgesics and medication used to correct erectile dysfunction, rheumatism and epilepsy, said Interpol.

While there was an expectation that they may find widespread counterfeit COVID-19 vaccines and medicines, that didn’t turn out to be the case.

West African operations revealed the use of counterfeit COVID-19 vaccination certificates in several countries, whilst East African operations saw the use of unregulated and unlawful distribution and sale of genuine COVID-19 vaccines.

With organized crime groups frequently engaging in multiple crime areas simultaneously, the operation also saw the seizure of cocaine, cannabis, khat, crystal meth, counterfeit foods, oils, beverages, cigarettes and baby accessories.

Substandard and fake medicines contribute to the global threat of drug-resistant illness and undermine Africa's ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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