Counterfeiting of medicines: the MEDICRIME Convention paves the way for a global response

“We, as parliamentarians, must raise awareness on the counterfeiting of medical products and similar crimes, and their negative impact on public health”, Valeriu Ghiletchi, Chair of PACE Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development, today said in Paris at the opening of a parliamentary conference on the MEDICRIME Convention, the Council of Europe’s treaty on the counterfeiting of medical products and similar crimes involving threats to public health.

“It is the Parliamentary Assembly who instigated the MEDICRIME Convention. Our Assembly has been actively involved in the issue of counterfeiting since 2004, when it called for reinforced policies to combat counterfeiting including better data collection, improved controls at customs, intensified communication with industry and the public and the harmonisation of legislation at European level”, Mr Ghiletchi added.

“Counterfeit medicines and similarly dangerous medical products constitute a big and valuable market. Every year, the turnover runs into the billions, making the traffickers rich at the expense of the sick. This new type of crime has now overtaken drug trafficking in terms of quantities and offers criminals an undeniable advantage: the punishment is less severe”, said Jan Kleijssen, Director, Information Society and Action against Crime Directorate. “In fact, this activity is 25 times more profitable than drug trafficking with a significantly lower level of risk, due to the relatively low risk of prosecution and detection, the potential high gains and the ease of their advertising and supply around the world through the Internet”, he said.

“When facing organised crime, no single response can be effective. Therefore, the response needs to be global. The MEDICRIME Convention paves the way for solid co-operation and information exchange at both national and international level. If we are to eliminate these threats, we will need your countries to sign and ratify the MEDICRIME convention. We need your co-operation, and we need to pool our efforts”, Mr Kleijssen added addressing the parliamentarians.

“It is important to develop a global network of parliamentarians who will make sure that the legal basis for the actions of authorities is created in the domestic legislation of the parties to the Convention. MEDICRIME does not respect borders, so the network to fight this crime needs to be global too”, said Francois-Xavier Lery, Head of Anti-Counterfeiting, Pharmaceutical Care and Consumer Health Protection of the European Directorate for the Quality of Medicines & HealthCare.

Medicrime Conference / Paris

“By making the MEDICRIME network bigger, we can convey to all the victims the right message — that the international community is ready to meet the challenge; that more and more public authorities are engaged in the protection of public health against the counterfeiting of medical products and similar crimes; that national and international co-operation successfully addresses the issues connected to counterfeiting of medicines”, he concluded.

Launching the Handbook for parliamentarians on the Convention, Ilise L. Feitshans, consultant expert, emphasized that the Convention was a game-changer. “This is the first time that MEDICRIME is a crime under international law”. She cited the encouragement of the President of the Assembly to national parliaments to ratify the Convention without delay : “Health and life cannot wait”.

Addressing the participants, Claude Chirac, Vice-President of the Chirac Foundation (France), estimated the number of deaths due to counterfeit medicines per year at 800.000, of whist 200.000 due to counterfeit malaria medicines.

"Counterfeiting of medical products is not a victimless crime, it’s a public health problem which affects the health and lives of millions of Europeans, and even more people worldwide", Mr Ghiletch said in his concluding remarks.

"For the MEDICRIME Convention to work effectively, we need far more signatures and ratifications of the Convention – the goal should be to rival the reach of the Cybercrime Convention, which has become truly global. As parliamentarians, follow urging of our President to ratify this important convention without delay. 'Health and life cannot wait'", he concluded.

The aim of the conference was to raise parliamentarians’ awareness of the issue of counterfeit medical products and their negative impact on public health by focusing on the scope and objectives of the Convention and to incite the national parliaments of the 47 member States and worldwide to ratify the Convention.

Participants included Christiane Etévé-Mousset and Catherine Petit, from the Association of Women with P.I.P. prostheses (France), Claude Chirac, Vice-President of the Chirac Foundation (France), Domenico Di Giorgio, Director of the Office for Product Quality and Counterfeiting, Italian Medicines Agency (Italy), and Carlos María Romeo Casabona, Professor in Criminal Law, University of Deusto (Spain).

The Council of Europe’s MEDICRIME Convention, which aims to combat the counterfeiting of medical products and protect public health, will enter into force on 1st January 2016. This Convention is the first legally binding international instrument making criminal offences of the counterfeiting, manufacture and supply of medical products marketed without authorisation or without complying with safety standards. It provides for not only criminal-law penalties, but also prevention and victim-protection measures.