INTERPOL warns of impact of pandemic on illicit medication in East Africa

11 December 2020
The trade is also amplifying the impact of COVID-19 on East African healthcare systems

LYON, France – An INTERPOL report has underlined how the COVID-19 pandemic has made illicit medication markets in Eastern Africa even more attractive to organized crime groups.

Produced in the framework of the ENACT (Enhancing Africa’s Response to Transnational Organised Crime) project, the INTERPOL report highlights how criminal networks are exploiting new vulnerabilities caused by the pandemic as a result of fear and misinformation and changes in the behaviour of communities.

“Challenges in regulatory authority autonomy combined with widespread adoption in East Africa of misinformation on COVID-19 create an ideal operating environment for organised crime groups,” says the report.

According to this assessment, the illicit medication market in East Africa has two main aspects: the increased importation of counterfeit and substandard medication, as well as the unlawful acquisition of legitimate medication sold through illegitimate means such as black markets.

Counterfeit and substandard medication in East Africa

The global counterfeit medication market is worth around USD 200 billion annually, according to the World Health Organization, most of which originates in Asia.

Although this illegal trade has long existed in East Africa, the reports finds that since the beginning of the pandemic, organised crime groups have adapted not only their way of importation or sale, moving from roll on roll shipping to container shipments or to online purchase and delivery, but also to the type of illicit medication produced and sold, such as chloroquine or codeine-based cough products.

The report further finds that the trade of illicit medication in East Africa has resulted in an increased level of addiction to powerful painkilling medications, overdoses and death from fake medication.

Crimes associated with black market medication

The demand for medication has further fuelled violence and corruption in attempts to compromise healthcare facilities and healthcare workers in order to access controlled medication.

This trade is also amplifying the impact of COVID-19 on East African healthcare systems.

“The trade in black market medication originally intended for hospitals has increased the difficulties for healthcare systems to cope with any subsequent second or third wave of COVID-19,” states the report.

It further concludes that it remains a prominent challenge for countries in East Africa to consider the impact of organised crime on the trade in illicit medication and to what extent that may further develop with further potential outbreaks of COVID-19.

Project ENACT

Through ENACT, INTERPOL assists police in Africa in adopting proactive strategies to combat organized crime threats, facilitate information exchange and enhance investigative skills.

The project is the first initiative of its kind to cover the entire African continent in analyzing the scale of organized crime and its impact on security, governance and development. This analysis serves to inform decision-makers and strengthen law enforcement cooperation at regional and continental levels.

Project ENACT is funded by the European Union and implemented by INTERPOL and the Institute for Security Studies, in partnership with the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime.