Beware the criminal threat to the fight against Covid

Beware the criminal threat to the fight against Covid

There has been a global alert warning of organised networks targeting vaccines and medical supplies

Two months ago, in a worrying portent of the fresh challenges medics may face combating Covid-19 globally, criminals hijacked a truck outside Mexico City and stole its cargo of 10,000 flu jabs. Mexico, which is among the countries worst hit by the pandemic, also has the world’s sixth largest black market in medicines. Yet it is not alone in facing the potential threat of criminals subverting the fight against Covid-19. Interpol recently issued a global alert, warning its 194 members of organised crime networks targeting vaccines and antibody tests. 

The problems presented by often well-funded and transnational criminal groups are multi-faceted. In Latin American and sub-Saharan countries, where the vaccine is likely to be scarce initially and insecurity is high, distribution trucks and storage facilities may be raided, or the freezers that keep the vaccine effective stolen. The medication, perhaps diluted or degraded through poor storage, might then be resold online or to the very facilities from which it was taken.

Yet such cases may prove to be only the thin end of the criminal wedge. The online false medicines market is estimated to be worth more than $70bn a year, enjoys huge mark-ups and affects all countries. US authorities have warned of websites pretending to sell Covid-19 medical supplies. In low-income countries, the World Health Organisation estimates that one in 10 medical products are either substandard or false. That’s why Interpol warned of the need to ensure safe supply chains and close co-ordination between law enforcement and health regulatory bodies.