By Ibrahima Dione
It’s a given: In Africa, the lack of a repressive legal arsenal does not deter drug counterfeiters.
“This trafficking is not always considered a crime, but rather a violation of intellectual property rights. As for convictions, they are often derisory or even non-existent,” the President of Togo Faure Gnassingbé said at the Summit on Counterfeit Medicines.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the estimated value of the illegal market for falsified or substandard medicines is $200 billion, or 10-15 percent of the global pharmaceutical market.
Omar Hilale, Director of the Executive Board of the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), believes that “leniency” in cracking down on trafficking is “an aberration” at a time when “the trade in narcotics and arms is highly risky and heavily repressed.”
For his part, former French counter-terrorism judge Jean-Louis Bruiguière notes that “in African countries, the penalties incurred by drug counterfeiters are very low. They can simply be sentenced to ridiculous fines or prison sentences.”
Bruiguiere, a co-author of the book “The 100 Words of Terrorism,” said state parties to the Lomé Initiative should “criminalise this trafficking with heavy penalties, i.e. at least 15 years in prison.”
The six state signatories of the Lomé Political Declaration, wishing for other countries on the continent to join them, have launched a fight against professionals involved in the marketing of fake medicines.
“Falsified medical products use the same supply channels as the genuine ones and all the techniques, including the most sophisticated ones used by laboratories to secure their packaging, have been thwarted because of the considerable financial capacity of criminal networks,” Gnassingbé revealed.
His Senegalese couterpart Macky Sall pointed out that “the sale of these products is not only the prerogative of clandestine pharmacies or the famous street pharmacies.”
According to the Senegalese leader, “it is only the small part of a much larger trafficking through the Internet by the methods of organised crime and cybercrime that invades even legal structures such as pharmaceutical warehouses, hospitals, dispensaries etc.”
In Africa, where the rate of counterfeit medicines is said to be as high as 60 percent in some regions, the campaign is led by the Brazzaville Foundation chaired by Jean-Yves Ollivier.
A founding member of this body, Michel Roussin, former French Minister for Cooperation, informed the summit that “the Brazzaville Foundation became aware of the scourge at a meeting held four years ago. On that day, two members of the foundation (a doctor and a member of civil society) raised the subject; and so we decided to work on it.”