Joining Forces to Combat Counterfeiting

February 2006

Dr. Dora Nkem Akunyili - tiresless campaigner (Photo:  NAFDAC)
Dr. Dora Nkem Akunyili - tiresless campaigner (Photo: NAFDAC)

If the global fight against counterfeit was seeking a champion, it has surely found one in Dora Nkem Akunyili, one of the key-note speakers at the November 2005 Second Global Congress on Combating Counterfeiting and Piracy in Lyon, France. A distinguished professor of pharmacology, she was appointed in 2001 to head the Nigerian National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). Since then, Dora Akunyili has waged war against the suppliers of counterfeit medicines with an unwavering commitment and integrity, which has made her a national hero and won tributes from as far afield as the Vatican and South Korea.

Dr. Akunyili’s impassioned address to the Global Congress is a wake-up call to anyone who might think of counterfeit as a victim-less crime, or a problem of concern mainly to big brand owners. Her story illustrates the enormity of the challenges, while offering inspiration to those who seek to tackle them.

When counterfeiting kills

In 1988 Dr. Akunyili saw her 21 year old diabetic sister die of hyperglycemia. It was not the diabetes that killed her. It was the fake insulin she had been supplied to treat it. Through recent years, similarly appalling incidents have multiplied. Four children died needlessly on the operating table in one of Nigeria’s top teaching hospitals in 2003 because the adrenaline drips contained little more than water. A survey published by the Nigerian Institute of Pharmaceutical Research indicated that by early 2001 some 80 percent of the drugs distributed in major pharmacies in Lagos were counterfeit. Some contained nothing but chalk or oil; some had been relabeled long after their expiry date; others contained such a dilute quantity of the active ingredient, that they contributed to generating drug-resistant strains of, for example, malaria and tuberculosis.

On her appointment to NAFDAC, Dr. Akunyili threw herself into combating the scourge, investigating reports from all quarters, raiding premises, publicly burning mountains of fake drugs, and putting the suppliers behind bars. She convinced Nigerian banks not to process financial import documents or lend money to projects involving medicines unless these were NAFDAC certificated . With black market profits at stake, she became a target for the fake drugs barons. Unable to bribe her, they tried to kill her. NAFDAC premises were firebombed. As she drove home to her village in December 2003, six gunmen opened fire on her car; a bullet grazed her scalp.

Undeterred, Dr. Akunyili continued her mission – with impressive results. NAFDAC figures for 2005 indicate an 80 percent decrease in counterfeit drugs in circulation since she started. At the Global Congress she urged delegates to "start showing that you can do a lot with a little."

International action

International trade in counterfeit and pirated products now affects nearly every market sector, and was estimated at over Euro 500 billion a year by the First Global Congress on Combating Counterfeiting. International cooperation to tackle the problem is more critical than ever. To this end, the 2005 Global Congress, hosted by Interpol and the World Customs Organization (WCO), brought together more than 500 participants from 66 countries. It is the only forum to rally on such a scale leaders from government, business, international organizations and enforcement agencies in order to develop concerted strategies against counterfeiting and piracy. Participants agreed the need for effective action in four focus areas: raising awareness; improving cooperation and coordination; building capacity; and promoting better legislation. WIPO, which currently chairs the Global Steering Committee, will host the Third Global Congress in January 2007.

WIPO assistance: building capacity

Meanwhile, demand continues to rise from Member States for WIPO assistance with capacity-building programs. During the last quarter of 2005, working closely with partner organizations, WIPO ran enforcement workshops in ten countries, including two training courses in Japan funded by the Japanese Funds In Trust, and four workshops for police and customs officers in Caribbean countries. These incorporated practical training exercises, analysis of the obstacles to effective enforcement, and elaboration of strategies to address them. Discussion at the Caribbean workshops highlighted difficulties at the operational level resulting from insufficient participation by rights holders in the enforcement process. The enforcement workshop in Mozambique was notable in comparison for the enthusiastic engagement of the private sector, which combined with high level political support to pave the way to new cooperation agreements on IP rights enforcement.

Rising up the political agenda

* Police and customs officers at a WIPO workshop in Barbados work on strategies to improve enforcement. (Photo: L. Van Greunen)

2005 saw IP enforcement issues rising up the agenda in major international forums. Leaders of the G-8 countries, meeting at the Gleaneagles Summit in July, declared their determination to reduce IP rights piracy and counterfeiting through more effective enforcement, noting in the Summit Declaration: "The growing trade in pirated and counterfeit goods, which can have links to organized crime, threatens employment, innovation, economic growth, and the health and safety of consumers in all parts of the world." This was followed up in October by the first G-8 anti-piracy expert group meeting to discuss enforcement strategies. WIPO participated as an observer in this meeting at which the Government of Japan proposed for consideration a new international Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Counterfeit and Pirated Goods.

Figures sometimes speak louder than words. And if policymakers are to be convinced to invest significant resources in combating counterfeit, they need to be supplied with hard economic data showing just how much counterfeit trade costs the country in lost revenues. In this respect, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has begun work on a Study on the Economic Implications of Counterfeiting and Piracy. A WIPO-OECD expert meeting in October, focusing on measurement and statistical issues, helped to prepare the ground.

With the pace of international action on enforcement accelerating, the third session of the WIPO Advisory Committee on Enforcement (ACE), to be held in Geneva from May 15 to 17, looks set to be a productive meeting.


IP Enforcement Case Book
The "Intellectual Property Enforcement Case Book," is a new WIPO publication, prepared by the Honorable Mr. Justice Louis Harms, Judge of Appeal, Supreme Court of South Africa. A resource for judges and for use in training, the case book guides the reader through selected court decisions in countries with a common law tradition, with an emphasis on matters that typically arise in civil and criminal proceedings in the field of IP enforcement. Available from WIPO’s e-bookshop at

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