Wednesday, 10 December 2008

INTERPOL: too little, too late?

In "Rapid Rise In African Anti-Counterfeiting Efforts Led By Developed Nations", Nick Wadhams (writing for Intellectual Property Watch) describes the activities of international law enforcement agency INTERPOL in bringing national authorities in Africa up to speed on the threat faced by those who depend on the imports, from hospital patients to pharmacists to farmers. One of INTERPOL's programmes is OASIS-Africa, the initiative that led to the seizure of more than 100 kinds of medical products, including anti-malarial pills, multivitamins, skin medicines and heart drugs in Uganda and Tanzania. The article then goes on to outline the scale of the problem, which is vast and endemic, the damage it causes, the shifting tactics of the counterfeiters and the apparent indifference or slow response on the part of countries from which counterfeit product is sourced.

Reading this article, one wonders whether the activities of INTERPOL and its backers might be characterised as "too little, too late". There is also a sense of helplessness and lack of resolve on the part of Africa as the victim continent. Imagine if African nations were accused by China of supplying that country with counterfeit medical and other products: would the Chinese response be so ineffective? It seems most unlikely. But African middlemen are presumably among those who profit most from the peddling of these products, aided by largely poor consumers whose option for treatment is bounded as much by their lack of spending power as anything else.

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