Wholesale Murder of Africans 158

Of 110 containers of pharmaceuticals entering West Africa searched in a special operation coordinated by the World Customs Organisation (WCO), 84 were found to contain fake pharmaceuticals. 82 million doses of fake medicine were confiscated which included anti-malarial and anti-HIV drugs and antibiotics.

Here in sub-Saharan Africa, over two children die every minute of malaria – which in 98% of cases can be cured with US $6 worth of genuine drugs. A spokesman for the WCO on BBC World Service radio last night said that the number of deaths caused directly by counterfeit medicine in Africa every year was in the hundreds of thousands. He called it “genocide”.

I might not use that word, but it is beyond doubt true that supplying counterfeit drugs to Africa causes more deaths than narcotics, than the wars in Syria, Afghanistan and the rest of the Middle East combined, and several hundred times more deaths than terrorism.

The supply of fake life-saving drugs to the world’s poorest people is not only on a far greater scale than terrorism, it is morally just as evil, killing innocent civilian populations, particularly children, on an unimaginable scale of slaughter.

So why does this terrible evil receive virtually no mainstream media exposure? Is it because it happens to Africans, and the media coverage of Africa is so negative and relentlessly concentrated on disaster that it leads to a perception that the natural state of Africans is to die of disease?

It is worth noting that this terrible crime is being committed against Africa from outside – almost none of the fake pharmaceuticals are made in Africa. Here in Ghana I know the good people at the Food and Drugs Administration; they are well organised, well-qualified and well-equipped. But they are fighting a huge tide of fake drugs and organised crime on a massive scale.

In Ghana the fake drugs come overwhelngly from China amd India, and I suspect that is true across the BRICS. This terrible dark side – the WCO estimates that the counterfeit drugs trade yields profits of US$9 billion a year – should be borne in mind when considering the success of the BRICS and their possible counterweight to Western influence in foreign affairs.

India and China have vastly more economic resources and greater government control than the African states whose people are the victims of this evil trade. The word “genocide” used by the WCO spokesman causes you to think in this case, because this is mass killing perpetrated by Asians against Africans. The exporting states must face up to their moral obligation to take responsibility for the quality control of the manufacture of their exports, and in particular for controls at ports to ensure fake drugs are not exported.

The United Nations and the World Health Organisation should take action to ensure that the xporting state has a legal obligation effectively to stop the export of counterfeit drugs, with effective redress for victim states against the exporting state.

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158 thoughts on “Wholesale Murder of Africans

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  • Moniker

    Do you think western politicians could be persuaded to help sort this one out if it was pointed out to them that it’s rather a novelty as a campaign issue in that it possibly really isn’t “our side’s” fault?

  • A Node

    You don’t say whether the “fakes” are found to be ineffective drugs with no medicinal value, or generic copies. Fake doesn’t necessarily mean bad.
    The pharmaceutical companies charge exploitative prices. In the case of anti-malarial drugs, much cheaper non-branded copies are available which are just as effective and can treat 10 people for every one paying for the “real” thing.

  • A Node

    Medialens has done recently done a great piece on the whole murky business.
    They first quote at length from Ben Goldacre’s new book which demonstrates conclusively how the pharma business manipulate the testing procedures to get their drugs on the market regardless of efficacy or even safety. Then they just as devastatingly conclude that Ben Goldacre is part of the problem rather than the solution, him being a powerful and respected commentator on the subject who campaigns for tweaking the system rather than dealing with the profit-driven corruption at the root of the pharmaceutical business.


  • craig Post author

    A Node,

    These are fakes with no or very limited medicinal value, not generics. Actually as I was posting I was wondering how quickly someone would try to divert this onto the (for most commenters) ideologically more comfortable ground of blaming western pharmaceutical companies!

    On anti-malarials and most antibiotics, for example, cheap generics are very widely available legally, so this is not about branding or intellectual property rights – which is a real problem but a smaller one.

  • craig Post author

    On malaria, the biggest killer, for example, there are several effective drugs but currently the most effective in Ghana is artesunate, best in combination with lumefrantin. I have a “branded” packet here. This course will save your life if needed, it is made by Novartis of Switzerland, was bought in an upmarket pharmacy, and only cost me $8. Cheaper versions are also legally available that will do the job.

  • KingofWelshNoir

    If it were fake Prada handbags they were exporting to Africa then the media in the West would certainly have something to say about the matter. And no doubt our governments would take stern action to stamp out the practice.

  • A Node

    Oh well, in for a penny …
    This “commenter” finds it difficult to believe that the western pharmaceutical companies (with their huge control over governments) would allow China and India to siphon off US$9 billion a year of “their” money unless it somehow suited them or the overall power structure to which they belong.

  • JimmyGiro

    If Italy can imprison 6 seismologists for failing to predict an Earthquake, then I think fake manufacturers are going to be facing universal opprobrium.

    Therefore it is imperative that these issues be checked by politically independent pharmo-chemical analysts, simply because it will be an obvious dirty tricks move for Western governments to use against the giant Eastern economies, which are taking over Africa.

    My caution is based on the principle that China and India don’t actually need to cheat.

  • Tom Welsh

    “On anti-malarials and most antibiotics, for example, cheap generics are very widely available legally…”

    So why don’t the African buyers get their drugs from those (safe) sources? Also, if a container holds a million doses of fake drugs, surely there is at least one laboratory that could test a few random samples before they are handed out to all and sundry?

    It may seem callous to shrug and say, “caveat emptor”. But in an unscrupulous world, where increasingly people are valued purely according to their wealth, there are bound to be many cheats and liars out to make their fortune on the cheap.

  • Geoff

    George W Bush was widely criticised for his “If you’re not for us, your against us” philosophy, and yet it seems to be quite a prevalent mindset in one form or another.

    I don’t think there is a reader of this blog who will be unaware of (at least some of) the evils that have been perpetrated by the western world whether it be at government or corporate level. What strikes me is the black and white mindset of some posters that think EVERY wrongdoing must be the fault of the West. It’s certainly hubris to think that the West has the power to control every action of very powerful nations such as India or China.

    I don’t know if Western governments turn a blind eye to this or not. Europe and the USA have committed no end of atrocities against Africans, but just as daily mail readers should not demonise foreign powers because they are ‘not us’, please let’s not canonise them for the same reason.

  • Jay

    I am told that major pharma companies give free, charirble drugs to African nations and these free drugs are shipped back to Europe to be sold on the open market.

  • craig Post author


    Perfectly possible. You can buy freely given World Food Programme food clearly marked as Aid and not for resale from traders all over Africa. But in those cases at least the intention of the donors is good.

    I agree entirely with Geoff. The belief that because there are bad people in the West, there are no bad people anywhere else is I think often caused by individuals being fixated on a single factor governing their wolrd view (9/11, Bilderberg, Freemasons, Jews, Illuminati) as an overall explanation of some kind. Still not sure however how that can convince people Putin is good, for example. A further crazed leap.

  • Karel

    Craig, a lot o fools, running round with open mouths, think that a fake drug is like a fake Rolex watch, although the latter actually runs for a while even though not so well as the Swiss original. Africa is in no way exceptional. Fake drugs can be found everywhere throughout Southeast Asia (SEA). As in Africa, these drugs are mainly supplied by India and China but there are apparently quite a few other countries trying to enter this profitable market. Fake Viagra is sold in SEA on every corner, presumably to slow down the population growth.

    The main cause of this tragedy is the extreme poverty of the population in countries of Arica and SEA as well as low level of education. People have to take the risk of opting for a potentially fake drug just because they cannot afford the more expensive alternative. It is just like if you have no money then you have to sail off on a rickety boat rather than on a luxury yacht. Nothing will change if people in those countries remain poor. Furthermore, all this is happening with the connivance of the governments whose officials get a cut from the producers and sometimes also from the distributors. Controls of the pharmacies are practically nonexistent and most of these countries have no laboratories for testing the content of the medicine on the market. In my opinion, things will get much worse and fake drugs will conquer the civilized world where our “western values” drive people to extreme poverty and those with poor or no medical insurance will have to look for bargains on the Internet and other obscure sources. The recent tragic case in the Czech Republic, where thirty people have died from methanol poisoning, can serve as a warning. They died after drinking cheap vodka, rum and other punched drinks laced with methanol. The fifty-fifty mix made it more profitable for the producer. Perhaps we should warn these poor buggers to avoid cheap drinks altogether and tell them to try Hennessey XO next time they have an urge for something stronger. So, get ready for a genocide in Europe Craig.

  • Komodo

    I find it hard to believe that the Chinese Government, with its huge interest in Africa’s economic resources, would score an own-goal by supplying fake medicines. China is perfectly capable of producing fully-functional medicines and undercutting the original developers. I say nothing about its attitude to the competition-stifling patents that inhibit more scrupulous legislatures, however. So we’re talking about organised crime, no?

  • craig Post author

    Yes – I have nowhere said or implied the government of China is behind this. I have said that they must take responsibility for cleaning it up and tackling this organised crime in their territory.

  • Mark Golding - Children of Conflict

    On that point Geoff what comes to mind is the fact that powerful nations such as Russia and China have tried to prevent ‘genocide’ in the Middle East by challenging the ‘preemption doctrine’ that considers striking a passive country as ‘doing the right thing.’

    Today we witness the aftermath in Bani Walid where families have been destroyed or driven out of their homes and where medical supplies are urgently needed.

    Despite this, the ‘West’ or the America empire and Britain are resolute on continually smashing Syria and preparing to demolish nuclear energy sites, some of which are in populated areas of Iran.

  • Frazer

    Craig..It is often the very Governments themselves whom are behind the proliferation of this trade. For example, a huge consignment of fake drugs was shipped from Rwanda to the Democratic Republic of Congo accross the Gisenyi-Goma border. These fake drugs were due to be distributed to hospitals and clinics and sold to patients as the genuine article. The end user ? The Minister of Health himself. Endemic corruption at local senior Govt levels is as much to blame as the exporting countries. If nobody wanted to make a fortune by passing these fake drugs off to the local population as genuine, then there would be no market for them !

  • craig Post author


    Certainly that is true – there are crooks in Africa involved in this end of the market, as well as Asian crooks at the other end. Probably with governmental corruption playing a part at both ends too.

  • Geoff


    Indeed I am very glad that Russia is attempting to put the brakes on American imperialism, but I am not sure it is based on their natural altruism as you seem to suggest so much as their own self-preservation.

  • Jay

    Its down to quality, and regards to equality, its now that we find that such low levels of equality is what makes us alike.

    If only our western leaders could set the example to the world and find common ground to base humanity instead of fighting for their terms of equality of which is eqaulity of poor quality as long as their is profit to be made.

    Yet again it come down to the money system?

  • jjb

    I am with you here Craig. Greed has not nationality, race or creed. If you are human then you are capable of evil deeds.

  • Mark Golding - Children of Conflict

    I repeat Craig’s words on Western governments, an intelligent insight that frames greed and warns of conflict. Please bear in mind the modern crazed catalyst for these actions in occurred in 2001.

    “The first and most obvious development is the realisation that, while western democracies have more or less eliminated open violence in their internal political arrangements for control of resources, they are increasingly liable to resort to open warfare to gain control over the benefit of the resources of other nations, particularly as those resources become more scarce and valuable. Anybody who truly believes that it is coincidence that Iraq, Libya and Central Asia are hydrocarbon rich, and the major areas of Western military activity, is wilfully blind. There was nothing new about neo-imperialism and its recent manifestation as liberal interventionism is no more than a rehash of standard imperial propaganda on the spreading of civilised values.”

  • Frazer

    Pharma companies donate to 2 major organisations, IDA and IMRES, both based in the Netherlands. These drugs are then sold (on a break even basis) at cost to International Non Govt Organisations such as Doctors Without Borders. These INGO’s then distribute them free to the population.

  • Mark Golding - Children of Conflict

    Of course Geoff – I have found nothing in foreign or political policy that is based on kindness. Compassion is based on a love of life not death. As I asserted in the ‘drone’ thread we have reached a stage in human progression where murder by proxy is a simple solution to the negative connotations of ‘disinformation’ or exposing the inevitable that civilians and children are murdered or soldiers (our own young men and women) are lost in battle.

    Clearly we on in an artery to wretchedness and I will not go with that flow.

  • Karel

    A node or whoever you are. It is you who understands nothing about the drug business. The potential loss of what you call “western pharmaceutical companies” is fictional as the poor in Africa or SEA would have never had the money to buy the more expensive medicine. Your claim is as absurd as the legal suit brought several years ago by some software company or another against a 13 yr old who supposedly siphoned off software worth 1.4 million dollars. Well a terrible loss to the company, I prsume. Had he not stolen it, he would have presumably bought it. Perhaps Lehman Brothers would have lent him the money to start a profitable businees.

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