UNODC develops a holistic strategy to combat crime related to falsified medical products in West and Central Africa


DAKAR  Counterfeit antimalarial drugs could be responsible for up to 270,000 additional deaths per year in sub-Saharan Africa, according to a WHO study, while in some parts of Africa, more than 30% of medicines sold are substandard or falsified medical products.

With 42% of global seizures made on the African continent, Africa is the continent most affected by the falsification of medicines.

Furthermore, the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the dangers of the global trade in falsified pharmaceutical products such as fake test kits, fake vaccines, falsified chloroquine, and falsified protection products. During a public health crisis such as the current pandemic, the fight against pharmaceutical trafficking becomes even more acute and urgent.

To raise awareness of the scourge of falsified medical products and to discuss responses to combat crime related to falsified medical products in this region, UNODC Regional Office for West and Central Africa (ROSEN) organized a side-event to the 30th Session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, which took place from 17 to 21 of May in Vienna, Austria.

The UNODC ROSEN side-event mobilized stakeholders from the civil society, private sector, and public sector to come together and face this growing threat in Western and Central Africa.

Chaired by the UNODC Regional Director for West and Central Africa, Dr. Amado de Andrés, all panelists emphasized the need to join forces to support States in a coherent and coordinated manner in the fight against pharmaceutical trafficking.

"UNODC's objective is to develop an operational support program that will enable States to provide a sustainable and innovative response to crime related to falsified medical products in West and Central Africa. (...) This holistic approach is based on the "Prevent, Detect, Punish" strategy and covers mutually reinforcing actions and systems (5 pillars) while mobilizing many partners and respecting the sovereignty of States," said Hélène Giraud, Consultant in Law Enforcement Programme Coordination at UNODC ROSEN.

The strategy outlined by the UNODC ROSEN is structured around five pillars:

  • Awareness building: The public and governments need to be informed about the dangers of falsified medical products.
  • Legislative assistance: The legal frameworks in some states are inexistent or weak when considering trafficking in falsified or substandard medical products.
  • Innovation: An innovative approach, focusing on partnerships with the private sector to secure the supply chain is essential for this strategy to succeed.
  • Forensics: Securing proof is an essential challenge in this project.
  • Capacity building and cooperation: Cooperation between law enforcement agencies and along the entire penal chain must be developed.

The development of this integrated programme to combat pharmaceutical trafficking contributes to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals 3, 5 and 16 and was made possible by the financial support of France through the UNODC project "Assistance to the ECOWAS and to the Member States in West Africa for the Development and Implementation of Drug Control and Crime Prevention Strategies.