Interpol operation targeted illegal health products in southern Africa


Ten Southern African countries were part of an Interpol operation against trafficking of illicit health and other products leading to the confiscation of goods worth US3,5 million (about R52 million).

Operation Afya 11 also saw 179 suspects identified and follow-up work on possible arrests is in progress.

Over 4 000 inspections were carried out at warehouses, storerooms, pharmacies and other premises in rural areas, triggering more than 300 investigations across the ten participating countries – Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

Under the auspices of its illicit goods and global health programme, Interpol supported the region sharing intelligence trends and priority targets relating to pharmaceutical and other counterfeit crimes.

With a particular focus on disrupting criminal activity and removing potentially harmful counterfeit products and illicit medicines during the pandemic, 40 000 illicit medical products were seized.

Commenting on the operation, Mozambique National Criminal Investigation Service (SERNIC) said in a statement: “Illegal production, distribution and sale of medicines contribute daily to the deaths of thousands across the world. The participation of Mozambican law enforcement agencies in Operation Afya II helped increase the level of synergies combatting criminal n groups dealing with pharmaceutical crimes and other harmful products, especially when the region is impacted by the pandemic.”

In the Southern African region, the COVID-19 pandemic led to a surge in the trade of illicit medical products and related items, including vaccines, face masks and fake COVID-19 certificates.

“Trafficking in illicit goods and health products is a serious crime endangering consumers and needs to be tackled on a regional and worldwide basis. Operation Afya II highlights how organised crime groups expanded illegal activities across borders and between regions, taking advantage of technology to generate significant profits,” said Nawa Mubita, Interpol Harare regional bureau head.

Operational highlights include: Botswana seized more than 1 700 counterfeit goods including illicit medical products, alcohol and foods; Eswatini authorities seized more than 5000 illicit pharmaceutical items carrying out 3780 checks; Over 32 000 illicit pharmaceutical products were intercepted in Mozambique, including analgesics, antibiotics, sedatives, dietary supplements, antifungal medicines and ovulation checks; Namibian authorities arrested nine suspects and seized alcohol and tobacco products worth US$ 12,000; In South Africa, authorities arrested seven suspects and seized counterfeit goods and manufacturing equipment worth almost US$ 1 million in one inspection alone with 48 suspects intercepted in the country during the operation, in addition to tobacco products worth US$ 1 million; and Zimbabwe seized more than a thousand medical products and identified 83 suspects.