The COVID-19 crisis has heightened the dangers posed by the global trade in counterfeit pharmaceutical products. Serious health and safety issues arise when people order fake medicines online; counterfeit medicines are often not properly formulated and may contain dangerous ingredients. During a public health crisis such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, tackling this global scourge becomes even more acute and urgent.
Indeed, a growing volume of fake medicines linked to coronavirus are on sale in developing countries, according to the World Health Organization, and Interpol has also seen an increase in fake medical products related to COVID-19. Seizures of fake COVID-19 tests and personal protective equipment such as facemasks and hand sanitizers have been reported by the US CBP and customs of other member countries as well as by the World Customs Organisation.
As treatments and, ultimately, a vaccine are developed, counterfeits of those products could lead both directly to further illness and death and to unsafe behaviour through a false promise of protection. Governments need to ensure the legitimate and safe provenance of pharmaceutical products, both online and in pharmacies, so that citizens can trust the medicines they use.
Evidence from the report "Trade in Counterfeit Pharmaceutical Products" estimates the total value of counterfeit pharmaceuticals traded worldwide to be as much as EUR 4.03 billion (as of 2016). Customs seizure data analysed in the study, which covers the period 2014-2016, shows that the most frequently encountered counterfeits were antibiotics, lifestyle drugs and painkillers. However, other medicines such as anti-malaria drugs were also heavily faked.
Governance Frameworks to Counter Illicit Trade
The OECD has identified governance gaps that provide opportunities for criminals engaged in illicit trade to expand their operations.
The OECD is compiling data, information, analysis and recommendations regarding the health, economic, financial and societal challenges posed by the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19). Please visit our dedicated page for a full suite of coronavirus-related information.