In sub-Saharan Africa, as many as 267,000 deaths per year are linked to falsified and substandard antimalarial medicines, a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report found.
In addition, up to 169,271 are linked to falsified and substandard antibiotics used to treat severe pneumonia in children.
Trafficking these products is also taking a direct economic toll on affected countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that caring for people who have used falsified or substandard medical products for malaria treatment in sub-Saharan Africa costs between 12 million to 44.7 million U.S. dollars every year.
International operations saw more than 605 tons of medical products seized in West Africa, between January 2017 and December 2021. Typically, these products travel through mainstream international trade channels, mainly by sea.
At the same time, the UNODC report states that investigations have uncovered a variety of actors involved in the illicit medical product trade. Traffickers include pharmaceutical company employees, public officials, law enforcement officers, health agency workers and street vendors.
The African Union established the African Medicines Regulatory Harmonization initiative in 2009 to improve access to safe, affordable medicine. The effort is part of its Framework on Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Plan for Africa. In addition, all Sahel countries but Mauritania have ratified a treaty for the establishment of the African Medicines Agency.
Recognizing these achievements, the UNODC report offered recommendations. Among them was to introduce or revise legislation to prevent all related offences, such as smuggling, money laundering and corruption.
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