Last reviewed 11 May 2020

Recent seizures of fake medical supplies being marketed as protection against COVID-19 underscore the need to address a growing international trade in counterfeit pharmaceuticals that is costing billions of pounds a year and putting lives at risk.

According to a joint report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the EU’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO), the trafficking and sale of fake or defective medicines is enriching criminal groups and endangering health while draining away vital industry and tax revenues.

Introducing the report, which can be found at, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said: “The sale of counterfeit and defective pharmaceuticals is a despicable crime, and the discovery of fake medical supplies related to COVID-19 just as the world pulls together to fight this pandemic makes this global challenge all the more acute and urgent.”

The vast majority of the counterfeit products seized contain incorrect proportions of active ingredients, meaning they are unlikely to work, while many contain undeclared substances that can pose serious health risks.

More than half the fake medicines seized in recent years originated in India and nearly a third came from China with the main destinations being Africa, Europe and the United States.

The OECD has produced an accompanying brief, Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the global trade in fake pharmaceuticals, which notes that seizures of fake COVID-19 tests and personal protective equipment (PPE), such as facemasks and hand sanitisers, have been reported by the authorities in several countries as well as by the World Customs Organisation (WCO).

Available at, it argues: “As treatments and, ultimately, a vaccine are developed, counterfeits of those products could lead both directly to further illness and death and to unsafe behaviour through a false promise of protection.”