"These results are alarming and serve as a reminder of the scale of the traffic in illicit medicines in Africa and the danger this trade represents to consumer health and safety," the WCO said.
Operation Vice Grips 2 was organised in partnership with the Institute of Research against Counterfeit Medicines (IRACM)
Conducted simultaneously at 16 major seaports on the east and west coasts of Africa from 11 to 20 July 2012, the operation led to the seizure of more than 100 million counterfeit products of all categories.
The illicit medicines included antimalarial and antiparasitic drugs, antibiotics, heart medication, cough syrups and contraceptive pills and infertility treatments, estimated to be worth over $40 million.
Customs officers used IPM (Interface Public Member), a tool developed by the WCO to enhance the ability to identify counterfeit goods by accessing key information provided by right holders.
"The high increase in seizures compared to previous operations has clearly demonstrated that IPM has proved its worth, enabling Customs to take smart decisions aimed at stopping illicit trafficking and fraud without hindering legitimate trade," the WCO added.
Of a total number of 110 maritime containers inspected by teams of Customs officials, 84 were found to contain counterfeit or illicit products, with the biggest shipments being discovered in Angola, Togo, Cameroon and Ghana.
The vast majority of shipments seized originated from South and East Asia and the Middle East.
“We have to continue to take coordinated and decisive action because lives are at stake,” WCO Secretary General, Kunio Mikuriya, underlined.
The WCO is collaborating with the police, judicial authorities and health agencies as part of investigations aimed at identifying the "criminal entrepreneurs” behind the illegal trade.
A Brussels-based WCO official told Lloyd’s Loading List.com that Operation Vice Grips 1 had been carried out on a smaller scale at African ports last year.
Vice Grips operations will be extended to other continents, notably Asia and South America, in the coming months, he confirmed.