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06 June 2014

Collective effort required to turn back pharmaceutical crime says INTERPOL Chief

Call for action follows seizure of nearly 200 tonnes of drugs in operation across West Africa

LYON, France – The head of INTERPOL has called for increased collaboration to tackle pharmaceutical crime following a recent operation across West Africa which resulted in the seizure of nearly 200 tonnes of fake or illicit medicines worth around USD 25 million.

Addressing the General Assembly of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), Secretary General Ronald K. Noble said the global dangers posed by counterfeit medicines required action at all levels.

“The sale of fake, counterfeit or illicit pharmaceutical products not only poses risks to the health of millions of people every day, but also provides opportunities for criminals to make massive profits at low risk said Secretary General Ronald K. Noble.

“To effectively tackle this problem requires a united effort, by law enforcement, the private sector, health agencies and most importantly the public. It is only though working together that we can address and turn back this crime,” concluded the INTERPOL Chief.

Secretary General Noble said developing awareness of the issue is essential, and is one of the cornerstones of INTERPOL’s Turn Back Crime campaign; to help the public better understand the criminal links and empower them to make informed choices about the products they buy both on and offline.

The INTERPOL-coordinated Operation Pangea VII, involving 111 countries targeting criminal networks behind the sale of fake medicines via illicit online pharmacies, led to 237 arrests worldwide and the seizure of nearly USD 36 million worth of potentially dangerous medicines.

In the three-day (27 – 29 May) INTERPOL-led Operation Porcupine across West Africa, some 2,000 police health, regulatory and customs officials took part in more than 500 raids and intelligence-led investigations in 20 cities across Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Senegal and Togo.

In partnership with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria,  the UN Operation in Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI) and the World Health Organization (WHO), the operation coordinated by INTERPOL's Medical Product Counterfeiting and Pharmaceutical Crime (MPCPC) unit targeted markets, shops, depots, pharmacies and private homes.

More than 300 illegal points of sale were identified and shut down, including in Togo an illicit pharmaceutical depot situated just across the road from a regional health centre. As well as fake and illicit drugs, expired medicines, some up to five years out of date, and diverted anti-malarials were also recovered.

“We are pleased to have played our role in this successful operation to remove potentially dangerous medicines from the streets and demonstrate Togo’s ongoing commitment in tackling all forms of crime,” said Mimpame Bolenga Head of INTERPOL’s National Central Bureau in Lomé.

The operation – one of the largest conducted in Western Africa – builds on the Addis Ababa Declaration from December 2013 which recognizes the African region’s commitment to strengthening the fight against counterfeit medical products and other pharmaceutical crimes.