A combined international operation across East Africa targeting counterfeit medical products and pharmaceutical crimes has resulted in the seizure of at least 10 tons of counterfeit and illicit medical products and more than 80 arrests of individuals suspected of involvement in the illegal manufacture, trafficking or sale of counterfeit and diverted medical products.
Involving police, customs and drug regulatory authorities across Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zanzibar, Operation Mamba III (July-August 2010) was co-ordinated by INTERPOL and undertaken under the umbrella of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce (IMPACT). Forensic assistance was provided by the laboratories of the Singaporean Health Science Authority, and the operation also included support from the World Customs Organization. It was the third such operation in as many years aiming to curb the manufacture and distribution of counterfeit medical products in East Africa.
The head of INTERPOL’s Medical Products Counterfeiting and Pharmaceutical Crime (MPCPC) unit, Aline Plançon, said that stemming the tide of fake, dangerous and diverted medical products required close collaboration between the health sector, law enforcement, international organizations and non-governmental organizations. She encouraged in this area ‘the development of a more systematic exchange of information to pool expertise, experience, resources, intelligence and technical support’.
“Operation Mamba III demonstrates that by working together collectively, countries can take concrete action on the ground to curb a crime that is still low-risk and high-profit for the criminals involved while representing a very real danger to the general public.”
The two month-long operation saw some 300 premises checked or raided across the participating countries and investigations are still on-going following the seizure of counterfeit essential medicines such as vaccines, anti-malaria drugs and antibiotics. Law enforcement agents also seized significant quantities of government medicines that were diverted to illegal re-sale markets.
With counterfeit and unregulated medical products becoming increasingly prevalent, sophisticated and dangerous to the public worldwide, particularly in Africa, “Operation Mamba III will also have served as a necessary platform to build up the awareness, resources and educational efforts which will play an essential role in making significant progress against counterfeiters in the coming years,” continued Aline Plançon, adding that the East African Community Secretariat had a key regional role to play in this respect.
Representatives of the participating countries will meet in Zanzibar next week (1-2 September) in order to review and draw on the results of Operation Mamba III, and to further harmonize the region’s approach against counterfeit and unregulated medical products.