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Authorities Arrest More Than 80 People, Seize 10 Tons Of Counterfeit Meds In E. Africa

Authorities have arrested more than 80 people and seized 10 tons of counterfeit medicines across six East African countries, the international police agency Interpol announced Thursday, United Press International reports (8/26).

Interpol, together with a WHO unit, “targeted alleged networks of counterfeit drugs makers, traffickers and vendors,” the Canadian Press reports (8/26).

According to an Interpol press release, more than 300 sites were checked or raided across Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zanzibar between July and August 2010 (8/26). “The operation was the third of its kind in three years,” the Canadian Press adds (8/26).

“The confiscated loot included anti-malaria drugs, vaccines and antibiotics. There was also a significant quantity of government medicines diverted to illegal resale markets,” CNN.com reports.

According to CNN.com, representatives from the six African nations where the counterfeit drugs were found “are scheduled to meet in Zanzibar next week to discuss the seizure and the extent of the counterfeiting problem, Interpol said” (8/26).

“Production and sale of counterfeit drugs is on the rise in rich and poor countries especially Africa, where counterfeit medicines are commonly available to treat life-threatening conditions such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS,” Reuters writes. “There were 1,693 known incidents of counterfeit medicines last year, a rise of 7 percent, according to the Geneva-based International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA),” the news service adds.

“By working together collectively, countries can take concrete action on the ground to curb a crime that is still low-risk and high-profit for the criminals involved while representing a very real danger to the general public,” said Aline Plancon, the head of Interpol’s medical and pharmaceutical crime unit (Irish, 8/26).

In related news, Inter Press Service continues its coverage of the concerns among human rights groups that an anti-counterfeit bill in Uganda could cause limit the public’s access to generic medicines.

The article details how despite revisions to the Counterfeit Goods Bill, some argue the bill still lacks clarity on the handling of generic drugs. According to the news service, the bill “reads that, ‘in the case of medicines, (counterfeiting) includes the deliberate and fraudulent mislabeling of medicines with respect to identity or source, whether or not such products have correct ingredients, wrong ingredients, have sufficient active ingredients or have fake packaging’. … Third World Network (TWN) has previously pointed out the dangers of this definition by noting that the terms ‘identity’ and ‘source’ are not explained. … Therefore, ‘identity’ could also refer to (the) trademark or the trade name of the drug, which means that a drug of good quality but having a close similarity with another trademark or trade name can be termed a counterfeit drug,’ according to TWN legal advisor Sangeeta Shashikant,” the news service writes.

The article includes comments by Sandra Kiapi, executive director of Action Group for Health, Human Rights and HIV/AIDS (AGHA), Raymond Agaba, commissioner for internal trade in the ministry of tourism, trade and industry in Uganda, and Moses Mulumba, a Kampala-based health rights activist and intellectual property legal expert (Kiapi, 8/26).

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