No fewer than five hundred thousand people reportedly die yearly in Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa over the intake of fake drugs.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), a measure is needed to curtail the situation, even as more fake medical products are being trafficked into the region.

In its new threat assessment report released in the public domain during the week, UNODC observed that lack of access to healthcare and medicines had been fuelling a host of opportunists to fill the gaps, the report Trafficking in Medical Products in the Sahel shows.

The report analyzed that in sub-Saharan Africa, the transnational organised crime threat assessment found that as many as 267,000 deaths per year are linked to falsified and substandard anti-malarial medicines.

In addition, up to 169,271 are linked to falsified and substandard antibiotics used to treat severe pneumonia in children.

Trafficking these products, according to UNODC is taking a direct economic toll on affected countries, even as such supply and an imbalance in demand have triggered deadly results.

Earlier, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that caring for people who have used falsified or substandard medical products for malaria treatment in sub-Saharan Africa costs between $12 million to $44.7 million every year.

International operations saw more than 605 tons of medical products seized in West Africa between January 2017 and December 2021. The health organization observed that these products travel through mainstream international trade channels, mainly by sea.

“Diverted from the legal supply chain, the products often come from major exporting countries to the Sahel region, including China, Belgium, France and India. Others are manufactured in neighbouring States.

“Once in West Africa, smugglers move medical products by bus, cars and trucks to the Sahel, following existing trafficking routes, to avoid border controls,” UNODC noted.

The statement noted further that: “Terrorist groups and non-State armed groups are commonly associated with medical product trafficking in the Sahel, but their involvement is limited. These groups levy “taxes” in areas they control, or they abuse the drugs themselves.

“News reports on drug use for non-medicinal purposes among terrorist groups have documented an Al-Qaida affiliate in Côte d’Ivoire and former Boko Haram recruits in Nigeria using or attempting to buy the opioid-like clonazepam (Rivotril) since at least 2016.

“At the same time, the UNODC report states that investigations have uncovered a variety of actors involved in the illicit medical product trade. Traffickers include pharmaceutical company employees, public officials, law enforcement officers, health agency workers and street vendors.”

It recalled that the African Union in 2009, established the African Medicines Regulatory Harmonization initiative to improve access to safe, affordable medicine. The effort according to the UNODC, is part of its Framework on Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Plan for Africa. In addition, all Sahel countries but Mauritania have ratified a treaty to establish the African Medicines Agency.

Recognising these achievements, the UNODC report offered recommendations. Among them was introducing or revising legislation to prevent all related offences, such as smuggling, money laundering and corruption.

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