How we can prevent corruption taking lives

December 8, 2022
Digital supply chain management/UNDP/Karin Schermbrucker for Slingshot

Digital supply chain management systems securely transfer medical supplies between hospitals and can reduce the number of products wasted or lost in transit.

UNDP/Karin Schermbrucker for Slingshot

Corruption can be a matter of life or death. In the health sector, it diverts life-saving resources from people who need them, threatening their right to health. Every year, an estimated US$500 billion in healthcare spending and 140,000 children’s lives are lost. Bribery increases patients’ out-of-pocket medical costs, which push 100 million people into extreme poverty each year, while fraud and forgery can reduce the quality and safety of health services and products. 

Crises such as COVID-19, with a rapid influx of funding and relaxed financial controls for emergency response, can lead to even more damage. During the pandemic, countries with lower government and interpersonal trust and higher corruption saw lower compliance with public health recommendations, with fatal consequences. Countries with higher public trust, transparency and integrity had fewer COVID-19 infections and higher vaccine coverage.

Grounded in its commitment to building the capacity of national stakeholders, UNDP has developed a step-by-step guide for the public sector and civil society to mitigate corruption risks that could undermine public health services. The Sectoral Corruption Risk Management approach helps stakeholders combat corruption by identifying specific decision points that are vulnerable to mismanagement and assessing their likelihood and impact. This approach provides a practical understanding of where corruption could occur and how to deter its most likely forms. It differs from approaches that solely focus on punitive measures or the drivers of individual behaviour.

Coordinated through the Global Network on Anti-Corruption, Transparency and Accountability, UNDP has implemented the approach in ten countries, which has already shown positive results. In Tunisia, more patients received medical services at a lower cost, with higher patient satisfaction. In Guinea-Bissau, government stakeholders appreciated UNDP’s focus on preventing corruption and the United Nations’ trusted role in convening people to discuss this sensitive topic. They are now establishing new administrative controls and an anti-corruption network for advocacy and capacity building.

In Kenya and Uganda, UNDP trained civil society organizations to support their responses to corruption through whistleblowing, advocacy and stronger oversight in service delivery—shaping the vital role of civil society in promoting accountability in public healthcare.

UNDP is also tapping into the potential of technology and innovation to mitigate corruption risks in the health sector through its new Anti-corruption Innovation Initiative, supported by the Norwegian Agency for Development CooperationNorad and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency. In Tanzania, UNDP is supporting technical tools for gathering, preventing, and investigating corruption cases. Similarly, UNDP is supporting the development and deployment of data collection tools, including software for the digitalization of medicine procurement, in Viet Nam. In Malawi, UNDP works with national authorities to improve the security and monitoring of health commodities such as medicines through a digital supply chain management system.

UNDP, with national and international partners, will continue implementing corruption risk management approaches and technologies in 2023 and beyond. But saving lives, strengthening health systems and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals requires more coordinated and collective action to prevent and address corruption. Government institutions, health experts, and civil society across multiple sectors and levels must come together behind a common agenda to combat corruption, tailored to the risks in each country’s health sector.

This International Anti-Corruption Day is the start of global efforts marking the twentieth anniversary of the UN Convention against Corruption. Over the next year, the world must unite against corruption and accelerate our work to ensure that health resources reach people who need them—people’s very lives and well-being depend on it.