The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) today opened a high-level conference on illicit trafficking of fraudulent medicines – a form of transnational organized crime which threatens public safety.
Fraudulent medicines have proven to be harmful and at times fatal, as well as an increasingly lucrative area for organized criminal networks. Worryingly, in parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America, fraudulent medicines are thought to amount to as much as 30 per cent of the market. UNODC currently estimates that the trafficking of fraudulent medicines from Asia to South-East Asia and Africa is a multi-billion dollar activity.
The two-day conference brings together a number of international organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Member States, industry representatives, business associations, and regulatory and law enforcement officials to discuss the illicit production, distribution and trafficking in fraudulent medicines. Focussing primarily on the criminal activities of organized crime networks and the risk to public health that these activities pose, the conference comprises high-level speakers from several key groups, including the Secretary General of the World Customs Organization (WCO), Kunio Mikuriya, the President of INTERPOL, Mireille Ballestrazzi; the French Ambassador on Organized Crime, Michèle Ramis; and the World Health Organization’s Director of Essential Medicines and Health Products, Kees de Joncheere.
UNODC’s Executive Director, Yury Fedotov, noted that fraudulent medicines present a particularly difficult, three-pronged concern in terms of health threats, development challenges, and the role of organized crime on a transnational scale. In his statement, Mr. Fedotov highlighted the critical role that the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime has to play in confronting this issue: “The Convention provides for the exchange of information, the application of investigative powers, and information sharing that is often invaluable in these types of criminal operations.”
Aside from assisting countries with the implementation of this Convention, UNODC is working in other critical areas to help tackle the trade in fraudulent medicines. The Container Control Programme, a joint initiative with the World Customs Organization, was initially established to help national authorities with the detection of narcotics. However, since becoming operational in 2006, the scope of the programme has widened considerably and now assists in building local capacity to detect all illicit container shipments. With over 30 Joint Port Control Units around the world, the programme is making an important contribution in helping national authorities increase the detection and identification of illicit products – including some instances of fraudulent medicines. Identifying the heads of criminal organizations and seizing their assets is another area which UNODC has been working on. Through the Global Programme on Money Laundering, UNODC helps prevent the laundering of criminal proceeds by delivering technical assistance to law enforcement agencies and financial intelligence to combat illicit financial flows.