Illegal drug re-importation plagues European countries

The pharmaceutical industry's programme of sending HIV/AIDS drugs to Africa at preferential prices has been undermined by re-importation of the cheap drugs to Europe to sell at full price. Several pharmaceutical companies provide essential medicines at prices near the cost of production to poor countries under the accelerating access initiative. However, some of their products have been found in store shelves in Europe.

  • An investigation by Belgian customs authorities found that at least three million doses of the drug Combivir – earmarked for sale in Africa at about $0.78 per dose – have found their way onto European pharmacists' shelves, where they sell for about $5.94 per dose.

  • An estimated 28 shipments of GlaxoSmithKline's antiretroviral drugs, Epivir and Trizivir – with a retail value $28 million – went back to Antwerp through Paris and Brussels.

  • GlaxoSmithKline estimated that about a quarter of the drugs it had exported to Africa had come back to Europe.

    Many of the drugs were supposed to go to HIV/AIDS clinics in Senegal, the Ivory Coast, the Republic of Congo, Togo and Guinea-Bissau. The Dutch government has issued a recall of all batches of Combivir originally intended for use in Africa. At the very least, European laws against the re-importation of exported European goods were infringed.

    Source: Owen Dyer, Cost Price Drugs for Developing Countries are Found in Belgian Pharmacies, British Medical Journal, October 12, 2002.

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    For more on Drug Re-importation and Price Controls

    FMF Policy Bulletin\22 October 2002

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