The international police agency Interpol later this year plans to join the fight to stop the growing trade of counterfeit antiretroviral, tuberculosis and malaria drugs in Africa, John Newton, manager of Interpol's intellectual property rights project, said Tuesday at the agency's 76th General Assembly in Marrakech, Morocco, AFP/Yahoo! Health reports.

Representatives from Congo, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan asked the 186-member police body at the assembly for assistance in preventing smuggling networks from making counterfeit drugs available in their markets and pharmacies, Newton said. Interpol plans to train police in African countries on how to eliminate counterfeit drug smuggling networks, coordinate police operations and track the trade of fake medicines from other parts of the world to the continent. Interpol also will collaborate with the World Health Organization and pharmaceutical companies to address the problem, Newton said.

"We are concerned about counterfeit medicines for life-threatening diseases such as malaria, TB and HIV/AIDS and increasingly getting involved in this area," Newton said. He added that the agency hopes to build on its successes in Latin America and Southeast Asia. "We have learned a lot of lessons in those regions and we are now able to apply those to Africa," he said, adding, "We can bridge the gap between law enforcement and the public health sector; we are able to bring the two areas together."

WHO estimates that up to 30% of the medicine sold in Africa is counterfeit. Interpol in 2005 conducted its first investigation of the counterfeit drug trade in seven Southeast Asian countries. The Center for Medicines in the Public Interest estimates that global counterfeit drug sales will rise to $75 billion by 2010, a 90% increase from 2005 (AFP/Yahoo! Health, 11/6).

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