NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Illegal Drug Reimportation Plagues European Countries

October 15, 2002

The pharmaceutical industry's program of sending HIV/AIDS drugs to Africa at preferential prices has been undermined by reimportation 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 -- came 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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