The Medicrime Convention, signed by twelve countries, including France, Germany, the UK and Russia, is part of global efforts to combat ‘pharmaceutical crime’.
Signatories have agreed to criminalise counterfeiting of drugs and vaccines in order to protect public health, and have called on other European countries to sign up to the convention.
The growing illegal trade in fake drugs began with ‘lifestyle’ drugs like Viagra and Cialis being sold online but this has since spread to blockbuster medicines such as cholesterol-busting ‘statins’ and blood pressure tablets.
Counterfeit vaccines were also circulating online during the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic and serious harm has been caused in the past by falsified vaccines.
The WHO says 2,500 people died in Niger in 1995 during a meningitis epidemic after more than 50,000 people were given fake vaccines donated by a neighbouring country.
More recently, authorities in China arrested a criminal gang accused of producing and selling fake rabies vaccines to clinics in the southern province of Guangxi.
The potential damage from falsified vaccines ranges from the risk that the product will not provide the protection patients expect, to the dangers posed by low quality, contaminated or harmful ingredients.
In Europe, pharmaceutical companies and pharmacists are working together to improve security systems which will reduce the risk of fake products reaching customers.