Nearly 400 tonnes of fake medicines have been seized over two years in Ivory Coast, whose main city Abidjan is a West African haven for counterfeit drugs, the health ministry said on Tuesday.
Counterfeit medicine is the scourge of Africa and the cause of around 100 000 deaths annually on the world's poorest continent, according to the World Health Organisation.
"In the course of the last two years, 385 tonnes of fake medicines - representing a financial loss of $173m for the pharmaceutical industry - were seized," said Able Ekissi, an inspector in the ministry.
"In Ivory Coast, 30 to 40% of medicines are bought off the streets. They are reputed to be cheaper and at best they are ineffective and at worst toxic, causing death," said Abderrahmane Chakibi, the managing director of French pharmaceutical firm Sanofi for sub-Saharan Africa.
The illicit sector has a turnover of at least 10% of the world pharmaceutical business, meaning that it earns tens of billions of dollars a year, the Switzerland-based World Economic Forum estimates, adding that the figure has nearly tripled in five years.
The WHO estimates that one out of 10 medicines in the world is fake but the figure can be as high as seven out of 10 in certain countries, especially in Africa.
The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene estimated in 2015 that 122 000 children under five died due to taking poor-quality antimalarials in sub-Saharan Africa, which, along with antibiotics as the two most in-demand, are the medicines most likely to be out-of-date or bad copies.
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