Of 110 containers of pharmaceuticals entering West Africa searched in a special operation coordinated by the World Customs Organisation (WCO), 84 were found to contain fake pharmaceuticals. 82 million doses of fake medicine were confiscated which included anti-malarial and anti-HIV drugs and antibiotics.
Here in sub-Saharan Africa, over two children die every minute of malaria – which in 98% of cases can be cured with US $6 worth of genuine drugs. A spokesman for the WCO on BBC World Service radio last night said that the number of deaths caused directly by counterfeit medicine in Africa every year was in the hundreds of thousands. He called it “genocide”.
I might not use that word, but it is beyond doubt true that supplying counterfeit drugs to Africa causes more deaths than narcotics, than the wars in Syria, Afghanistan and the rest of the Middle East combined, and several hundred times more deaths than terrorism.
The supply of fake life-saving drugs to the world’s poorest people is not only on a far greater scale than terrorism, it is morally just as evil, killing innocent civilian populations, particularly children, on an unimaginable scale of slaughter.
So why does this terrible evil receive virtually no mainstream media exposure? Is it because it happens to Africans, and the media coverage of Africa is so negative and relentlessly concentrated on disaster that it leads to a perception that the natural state of Africans is to die of disease?
It is worth noting that this terrible crime is being committed against Africa from outside – almost none of the fake pharmaceuticals are made in Africa. Here in Ghana I know the good people at the Food and Drugs Administration; they are well organised, well-qualified and well-equipped. But they are fighting a huge tide of fake drugs and organised crime on a massive scale.
In Ghana the fake drugs come overwhelmingly from China and India, and I suspect that is true across the BRICS. This terrible dark side – the WCO estimates that the counterfeit drugs trade yields profits of US$9 billion a year – should be borne in mind when considering the success of the BRICS and their possible counterweight to Western influence in foreign affairs.
India and China have vastly more economic resources and greater government control than the African states whose people are the victims of this evil trade. The word “genocide” used by the WCO spokesman causes you to think in this case, because this is mass killing perpetrated by Asians against Africans. The exporting states must face up to their moral obligation to take responsibility for the quality control of the manufacture of their exports, and in particular for controls at ports to ensure fake drugs are not exported.
The United Nations and the World Health Organisation should take action to ensure that the exporting state has a legal obligation effectively to stop the export of counterfeit drugs, with effective redress for victim states against the exporting state.