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The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released a new research brief highlighting a rise in the trafficking of substandard and falsified medical products due to the increased demand for medications and personal protective equipment (PPE) to address the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.
The particular rise is falsified and poor-quality PPE signals a significant shift in organized criminal group behaviour that is directly attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the brief.
While fake treatments, vaccines and cures for COVID-19 have also been circulating globally for the past months, it can be foreseen, that with further developments in COVID-19 medical research and development a shift from trafficking in PPE to the development and delivery of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics will take place.
Weak regulatory and legal frameworks to prevent the production and trade of substandard and falsified products and cyber security shortcomings were evident before COVID-19, but have become even more apparent during the crisis, UNODC emphasizes.
“Health and lives are at risk with criminals exploiting the COVID-19 crisis to cash in on public anxiety and increased demand for PPE and medications,” said UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly. “Transnational organized crime groups take advantage of gaps in national regulation and oversight to peddle substandard and falsified medical products. We need to help countries increase cooperation to close gaps, build law enforcement and criminal justice capacity, and drive public awareness to keep people safe.”
To combat the manufacturing and spread of counterfeit medical products, UNODC outlines the following actions:
- Strengthening legal frameworks and penalties
- A more harmonized global approach to the criminalization of the manufacture and trafficking of falsified medical products
- Building governance improvements by addressing good practices in the procurement of medical products and the elimination of opportunities for corruption
- Preventing, detecting and responding to medical product-related crime will require new or additional cross-skill training in the medical product sector