Fake China, India drugs put Kenyans at risk

Fake medicine that was recovered during a raid on counterfeits by police. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Fake medicine that was recovered during a raid on counterfeits by police. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

A UN study has ranked Mombasa as a major hub for trafficking of fake pharmaceutical and veterinary drugs, putting millions of lives in danger. 

The study by the World Customs Organisation (WCO) and the International Institute for Research Against Counterfeit Medicines (IRACM) cites the Kenyan port city as being among the biggest trafficking points in Africa for counterfeit veterinary products and human medicines like antimalarial drugs, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatories, antibiotics and analgesics as well as gastro-intestinals.

“Some 113 million illicit and potentially dangerous medicines were seized in Africa, with a total estimated value of €52 million (Sh6 billion). The biggest interceptions were in Nigeria, Benin, Kenya and Togo – in that order,” says WCO secretary-general Kunio Mikuriya in the report released late last month. “All these potentially dangerous medicines to animal and human health have been withdrawn from the market instead of being sold to the African populations.”

Most of the counterfeit medicines netted originated from India and China. The joint investigative research was done by WCO and IRACM in collaboration with the Kenya Revenue Authority, Interpol and the Pharmacy and Poisons Board.

The World Organisation for Animal Health and the Kenya Anti-Counterfeit Agency were also involved.


WCO is a United Nations-affiliated agency with 182-member states as at May 31, 2017. Kenya joined the organisation in May 1965.

The report, which covered 16 WCO member-states in Africa, shows that out of the new record seizure of 113 million illicit and potentially dangerous pharmaceutical products, over 12 million (12,509,823) units were netted at the Mombasa seaport alone.

The units intercepted were measured in ampoules (containers), pairs, pieces, pills and kilos. Over 188,000 veterinary products were intercepted in Mombasa, including Bimectin- used for treatment and control of a wide range of internal and external parasites of cattle and swine.

World Health Organisation reports show that 700,000 people are killed globally by counterfeit medicines annually. Africa contributes 100,000 of these deaths.

Counterfeit (or illicit) medicines are drugs that are not allowed into the country either due to infringement of international property rights, licences, false certificates, transport or storage conditions, or those not declared. They may also have wrong ingredient size or no active ingredients at all to cure illnesses.

Trafficking of counterfeit drugs is closely linked to other serious crimes, such as money laundering and funding of terrorist groups.

Of the 243 maritime containers inspected in the context of Operation ACIM (Action against Counterfeit and Illicit Medicines) in Kenya last September, 150 contained illicit or counterfeit products. The Kenyan team inspected several suspicious consignments in transit to Uganda.

Mr Mikuriya said although most of the seizures were of everyday medicines, over two million doses of anti-cancer drugs were also included “in this tragic record”.

This is the fourth such IRACM-WCO joint operation in the fight against fake medicines on the continent. The number of seizures made in the four operations since 2012 has now reached almost 900 million counterfeit and illicit medicines worth about €400 million (Sh46.2billion).

The Kenya Pharmaceuticals Distributors Association (KPDA) chairman, Kamamia Murichu, is on record brushing off claims that parallel importation of medicine has opened a window for counterfeits, saying their members adhere to safety and quality standards.

This followed a whistleblower’s paper trail last August showing how fake and counterfeit medicine gets into Kenya through parallel imports by help of some Pharmacy and Poisons Board officials.

“Claims that drugs imported through parallel imports are counterfeits are wrong since nobody has done any tests to prove the same,” said KPDA.

- Reporting for this story was supported by Code for Africa’simpactAFRICAfundand the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.