Operation Cobra in Western Africa combats pharmaceutical crime with INTERPOL support

7 October 2011

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso – A regional operation undertaken against counterfeit medicines across Western Africa has resulted in the seizure of at least 10 tons of illicit and fake medicines and more than 100 arrests.

Operation Cobra (26 September-2 October) was coordinated by INTERPOL and involved police, national health regulatory and customs authorities in seven countries (Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo), with the support of stakeholders from the private sector.

The key objectives of the operation were to identify, investigate and disrupt the networks involved in counterfeit and illicit medicines, including unauthorized sales, importation and smuggling, and illicit local production. It aimed to develop coordination across various sectors and identify innovative solutions to tackle the problems of illicit medicines in those countries.

The operation targeted mainly open markets, illegal markets, traveling markets, wholesale and high-volume importers.

“The quantity of trafficked and fake illicit medicines is alarming. The trade in such dangerous medicines cannot be halted without a collective international effort involving all sectors and stakeholders, including the private sector and enhanced laboratory testing capacity,” said the manager of INTERPOL’s Medical Products Counterfeiting and Pharmaceutical Crime (MPCPC) unit, Aline Plançon.

“The success of Operation Cobra was down to a combined effort involving the participating countries and agencies sharing and exchanging information, with the support of INTERPOL."

“Such operations aim to both strike at the trade of illicit medicines and to raise public awareness about the dangers of illegal pharmacies which threaten the health of the general public,” added Aline Plançon.

Types of medicines under particular focus included antibiotics, pain killing and other drugs used to treat cancer, malaria, diabetics, and heart conditions.