Record seizure of illicit medicines in Africa

14 June 2013

For Immediate Release

Paris, 13 June 2013

The World Customs Organization (WCO) and the Institute of Research Against Counterfeit Medicines (IRACM) issue a new warning on the health and safety of African populations

More than 1 billion illicit products seized in 10 days, including 550 million medicines

A customs operation of an unequalled scale was carried out in April of this year in 23 African countries. More than one billion articles and in particular 550 million doses of illicit, potentially dangerous if not deadly medicines were intercepted including: antibiotics, painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs, medicines for high blood pressure and diabetes and food supplements. The total value of the medicines collected is estimated at more than $275 million US Dollars. These results reveal the extent of the traffic of illicit medicines in Africa and the danger this poses to the health of people across the African continent.

More than 1 billion illicit products seized in 10 days, of which 550 million were medicines

Operation BIYELA was organized by the World Customs Organization (WCO) in partnership with the Institute of Research Against Counterfeit Medicines (IRACM). The customs administrations of Algeria, South Africa, Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Madagascar, Morocco, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania and Togo participated in the operation.

The results are alarming. More than one billion counterfeit or illicit products were discovered inside 145 containers. The Democratic Republic of Congo and Togo are the countries where the most significant results were attained in terms of volume. The majority of intercepted shipments originated from East and South Asia and the Middle East. "Operation Biyela has brought irrefutable proof of the major role that customs play in protecting consumers," declared Kunio Mikuriya, Secretary General of the WCO. "Apart from the interception of dangerous products, this international operation allows us to gather precious intelligence on the traffic of these products, and therefore reinforce our inspections," he added. "The success of customs in only 10 days and at 23 African ports provides a horrifying idea of the scourge that the traffic of fake medicines represents on this continent. It is time that all national and international authorities moblilize to protect the life of patients," declared Jacques Franquet, Director of the IRACM.

Officers trained to recognize counterfeit medicines

To prepare for the operation, customs officers were trained to recognize the technical characteristics of products likely to be counterfeited, as well as risk-analysis techniques. The training was provided by the WCO with the support of the IRACM, Institute of Research Against Counterfeit Medicines and experts of the concerned industrial sectors, such as the pharmaceutical sector.

This advanced training was provided with the help of the IPM (Interface Public Members), a tool developed by the WCO that provides fast detection of counterfeited items. The IPM contains key information on the branded products supplied by the licensees (photos, technical description, transport itinerary, packaging characteristics, contact people for the brand in question, etc.) and is accessible to customs officers 24 hours a day.

Operation BIYELA had several objectives:

  • Detect new vectors and new fraud techniques in order to put into place adapted means to fight the scourge,
  • Train custom experts in new risk analysis techniques and targeting,
  • Encourage customs officers to use the IPM system in real situations,
  • Identify the types of counterfeit products and evaluate their risk potential,
  • Mobilize the actors in the fight, notably the licensees and the regulatory agencies, so that they support and cooperate with customs.

The results presented in this press release are preliminary; all the data concerning the interceptions has not yet been communicated.

About the World Customs Organization

The WCO is the only intergovernmental organization exclusively specialized in customs issues. With Members in countries around the world, the WCO is now the voice of the international customs community. The WCO is renowned for its work in drafting international customs standards, simplifying and harmonizing customs procedures, supply chain security, trade facilitation, enforcement, public-private partnership, promoting integrity, and sustainable Customs capacity building.  In addition, the WCO manages the Harmonized System international goods nomenclature and the technical aspects of the WTO Agreements on Customs Valuation and Rules of Origin.

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A non-profit association, the Institute of Research Against Counterfeit Medicines (IRACM) was created in October 2010. Its missions: to raise public and authorities’ awareness concerning the scourge that counterfeit medicines represents, to train the committed actors in the fight against fake medicines, to centralize knowledge, good practices and know-how and to serve as a proactive interlocutor and advisory body proposing advice and solutions to national and international political and judiciary authorities. After more than two years, the IRACM has trained more than one thousand senior customs managers, police and health agencies of more than 50 different nationalities, and has raised several thousand people’s awareness about dangers of fake medicines.

For more information:

Press Contacts

WCO - Laure Tempier - +32 2 209 94 41 – laure.tempier[at]

IRACM - Laurence de la Touche – +33 1 40 54 19 73 – l.delatouche[at]

Laurence de la Touche – 01 40 54 19 73 –