South Africa: Disorders and catastrophic looting: crucial to recover drugs and vaccines
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The images of destruction and chaos that accompany the recent looting in South Africa have caused disbelief and shock around the world. It seems that nothing was spared: the looters took everything they could carry, from food to flat-screen TVs. The financial repercussions and international investment concerns will likely be debated for a long time, especially with the corresponding timing of the third wave of Covid-19 infections in the country.
Despite these scenes of unrest, various reports point to collaboration between members of the public and the police for the custody of property and the cleaning up of the after-effects. Authorities further said they would act swiftly and aggressively against the instigators and participants in the looting chaos. Many stolen items, mainly electrical devices, are said to be in the process of being recovered.
Covid-19 vaccines and other scheduled drugs have also been flagged as goods taken by looters, which is having a potentially devastating impact on our already strained healthcare system, especially for patients in need of chronic treatment during the pandemic. These vaccines and drugs should be prioritized in the recovery process.
According to the South African Government News Agency, one of the approved vaccines currently administered in South Africa has been registered under section 15 (6a) of the Medicines and Related Substances Act 101 of 1965 (” MRSA â). The MRSA contains very strict provisions regarding the sale of these drugs and the limitation of qualified persons and entities who can do so.
The reasons why MRSA has strict compliance provisions for scheduled drugs are understandable: their abuse and unregulated use has likely disastrous and even potentially fatal consequences. Now imagine the risks of unqualified people administering Covid-19 vaccines in an unregulated environment, not to mention the likely scenario that these stolen vaccines have been moved and stored under uncontrolled conditions. As a result, unwanted and even fatal reactions could even lead to further arguments from vaccine skeptics.
None of the looters or other individuals are authorized to sell drugs or vaccines taken at the sites during the unrest. This may seem obvious since these items have been stolen, but the benefits of the strict MRSA provisions lie in the identification of the goods as illegal items, the seizure of the items and the successful prosecution of violators. Section 19 prohibits the sale of drugs unless it meets prescribed requirements. Section 22A goes further and prohibits the mere possession of any drug or listed substance in violation of prescribed conditions. Sections 29 and 30 criminalize the violation of these sections and provide that an offender can be sentenced to imprisonment for up to 10 years on conviction.
Section 28 gives “inspectors” (usually officials of the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority) broad search and seizure powers (in certain circumstances without the need to obtain a warrant) in this regard. which relates to these offenses or attempts to commit them.
Despite the encouraging commitments of the police, with the help of citizens, to crack down on looters for possession of stolen goods, the prosecution and prosecution of those responsible for these offenses is not as straightforward as threats to break down doors and destroy stop every second person with a new television or refrigerator. From a practical point of view, the nature of these crimes (presumably âtheftâ offenses and charges relating to the possession of suspected stolen property within the meaning of Article 36 of the General Law Amending the Law)) can be very significant. although require more in-depth investigation and verification processes. by the police to build and support a strong case.
In contrast, the nature of scheduled drugs and vaccines and the statutory offenses created by MRSA in this regard arguably facilitate a more streamlined process by ensuring not only legal seizures but also faster and more successful prosecutions. Aside from the retribution factor involved in recovering stolen drugs, there are more pressing considerations: protecting the health of the public and preventing further black market and counterfeit activity.
Last year, counterfeit vaccines were reportedly seized by law enforcement in Gauteng, months before approved vaccines even reached South Africa. Although the operation is now known to all, most details of the suspected counterfeit vaccines and their intended destination remain confidential at this stage. What is well known is that counterfeit products are created and supplied as a result of a high demand for the real, genuine product.
Vaccines stolen during looting offer the possibility for criminals to duplicate all information and details of authorized vaccines (possibly down to batch numbers). With a third wave of infections and a delayed vaccine rollout, there is strong demand in South Africa and other African countries for Covid-19 vaccines. Now, with the looted vaccines, there is a wanted product potentially in the hands of the wrong people, in a country where the trade and manufacture of counterfeit products is rampant, with ports and easy access to other African countries. .
During the looting, the role of Crime Intelligence was put in the spotlight. In the context of stolen drugs and vaccines, private investigators can play a vital role in helping criminal intelligence agencies identify the culprits and locations of stolen goods and possible counterfeit versions. Most anti-counterfeiting law firms regularly use private investigators to identify and investigate suspects and counterfeit syndicates. Due to the nature of these offenses, trademark owners often authorize their representative law firms to manage this process with investigators to ensure proper collection of evidence. The same process was followed to investigate MRSA contraventions. Evidence gathered in this regard can also help stop other illegal activities and the illegal distribution network. Customs registration filed under the Counterfeit Products Act may further assist law enforcement in tracking down any suspected counterfeit vaccine leaving South Africa.
Whatever approach law enforcement takes, it is imperative that action be taken as soon as possible. Collaboration between the authorities and the private sector appears to have been effective in the fight against looting. This may well be an indication of the way forward to achieve the best results in the recovery of stolen drugs and vaccines.
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