As we already mentioned when we talked about the study Trade in Counterfeit Pharmaceutical Products published at the beginning of the year by the OECD and EUIPO, the total value of counterfeit pharmaceuticals was estimated to be up to EUR 4.03 billion in 2016.
This phenomenon not only puts at risk the R&D investments of the legitimate owners of the infringed intellectual property rights, but also thousands of jobs in this industry. In turn, it poses a real threat to public health and consumer safety.
The study highlights how criminal organizations are taking advantage of vulnerabilities in the supply chain of these types of products, such as second-tier distributors, the extension of free zones or the rise of e-commerce, to introduce counterfeit products into this lucrative market.
The Covid-19 crisis has created a strong global demand for the supply of medical equipment, disinfectants and pharmaceuticals, putting great pressure and vulnerability on the usual supply chains of these products, which have had to be activated in short periods of time.
As a result of this global state of emergency, the usual processes of checking quality, origin and costs have been compromised, a scenario that has provided a great opportunity for criminal organisations to introduce counterfeit products, once again putting at serious risk the world population threatened by the pandemic and aggravating the situation of economic crisis.
This is confirmed by Europol’s recent report “Viral Marketing, counterfeits, substandard goods and intellectual property crime in the COVID-19 pandemic”, which highlights how counterfeiters have been quick to adapt their catalogue of illicit products to the demand caused by the health crisis, taking advantage of citizens’ state of fear and anxiety about their health.
This study not only emphasizes the importance of pursuing and arresting these criminal organizations, it also warns and informs citizens about the risks they run in acquiring and using such illicit products.
Thus, among the products to prevent by Covid-19 transmission affected by counterfeiting are face masks, latex gloves, test kits, gels, alcohols and disinfectants. Also medicines to combat the virus such as vaccines or antivirals.
The study highlights operational successes by the French Law Enforcement Authorities, which took down several websites offering the sale of fake Covid-19 blood spot screening test, and by the Fraud Investigation Unit of the Romanian Police that seized nearly 2,000 face masks which appeared not to meet the required safety standards.
The Internet and social networks have once again been a distribution platform for these fake products that originate in territories such as China and India, reaching the European Union by air and sea. The study also points to the identification in the European Union of illegal laboratories capable of producing synthetic medicines on a large scale.
Finally, food and vitamin supplements have not escaped the phenomenon of counterfeiting during the coronavirus crisis either, with the shipment of illicit products being detected from China, Hong Kong, Brazil and even from some European countries such as Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
Article by Josep Maria Pujals.