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Fake Pharmaceuticals a Bigger Threat to West Africa Than Drug Trafficking

  • Kate Thomas

Illegal drugs trafficking is no longer the biggest threat to stability and human security in West Africa, according to a report released by the United Nations drugs and crime body.

The report, published by the United Nations Office Against Drugs and Crime, says illegal oil bunkering and fake pharmaceuticals pose a greater risk to the region than drug smuggling.

Antonio Mazzitelli, the regional representative of the U.N. body, says fewer illegal drugs are flowing through West Africa.

"The West African route has been temporarily closed down, or at least there is a very dramatic slowdown," he said.

Two years ago, organized drug trafficking through West Africa was at an all-time high. The most significant transit points were Guinea and Guinea-Bissau. The latter was dubbed a "narco-state" for its role in the movement of cocaine from Colombia to Europe. Mazzitelli said pressure from the international community has helped to improve the situation.

"This is highly understandable because of two factors," Massitelli said. "First of all there has been increased pressure by the international community, by mass media, on traffickers and decision makers in West Africa. Last year we had the endorsement of the ECOWAS plan of action on drugs and organized crime. Heads of state were until recently more or less in denial of the problem."

He said there are other, increasingly significant, threats to security in the region.

"Certainly drugs is an important issue but it is not the most important one, especially here in West Africa. There are others; they do not affect stability but in terms of human security they have a tremendous impact," Massitelli said.

The UN estimates that more than half of anti-malaria medication available in West Africa is of sub-standard quality. West Africa has the highest estimated rate of malaria on the continent, with nearly 98 million cases of malaria per year.

"According to studies available, 50 percent of malaria tablets available in West Africa are fake, or they contain 20 percent of the active ingredient." Mazzitelli said.

The report also highlighted the dangers of electronic waste. West Africa is increasingly being used as a dumping ground for old cellphones and computers, some of which release harmful amounts of lead into rivers and water supplies.

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