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UN: Corruption Endemic In Health Sector

UN: Corruption Endemic In Health Sector
A resident receives COVID-19 vaccine at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish Church in Barangay Maysilo in Malabon City on Sept. 11, 2021 amid the pandemic. Photo by Ernie Peñaredondo, The Philippine STAR

Corruption is an endemic problem in the health care sector, and reporting corruption in this sector is a critical step to address offenses and save lives, according to a new report by the United Nations anti-narcotics and crime body.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report, “Speak Up for Health! Guidelines to Enable Whistleblower Protection in the Health Care Sector,” said the estimated cost of corruption in the sector is already very high under normal circumstances.

In 2008, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that out of $5.7 trillion spent worldwide on health, $415 billion (around 7.3%) was lost to health-related fraud and abuse.

“The risk of corruption in the health care sector becomes even greater, and its devastating effects become more evident in times of health and sanitary crises,” the report said.

The health care sector is broad, complex and vulnerable to corruption. The sector’s vulnerabilities include the complexities of national health care systems, the wide range of activities along the entire medical supply chain and the large number of actors, often from both the public and the private sectors.

“In addition, the vast quantities of assets involved make the sector particularly susceptible to corruption. These vulnerabilities can also weaken health care systems, waste resources and make countries less resilient to – and less agile in – health emergencies, compromising coverage and access to essential health care services,” the report stated.

A lack of safeguards and controls in the medical product supply chain can result in the purchase and distribution of low quality, expired or even falsified products and drugs.

“Corruption enables the production, purchase and use of falsified medical products. At best, such medical products are inefficient; at worst, they harm consumers. In both cases, they endanger the lives of the people who need them the most,” the report read.

The UNODC report pointed out that preventing corruption in the health care sector is critical because of the undue risk it poses to human lives. It is essential that states and health care sector organizations establish safeguards and oversight mechanisms to prevent corruption.

It said it is critical that health care sector organizations establish mechanisms to detect wrongdoing and address it at the earliest stage possible.

One such mechanism is aimed at encouraging personnel in health care organizations to report suspected wrongdoing and protecting them from retaliation in any form.

Under Article 33 of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) of which the Philippines is a signatory, state parties are required to consider incorporating into their domestic legal systems appropriate measures to provide protection against any unjustified treatment for any person who reports in good faith and on reasonable grounds to the competent authorities any facts concerning offences established in accordance with the Convention.

The new UNODC report provides a step-by-step process that an organization can follow to establish internal policies and procedures that facilitate the disclosure of allegations of wrong-doing and protect reporting persons.

On March 11, 2020, WHO declared the outbreak of COVID-19 – a respiratory illness caused by SARS-CoV-2 – a pandemic.

The resulting global health crisis forced states to take emergency measures to contain and mitigate the spread of the virus. As the risk of corruption in the health care sector increases under such circumstances, the UNODC warned that by taking such emergency measures, member states had necessarily relaxed safeguards by trading compliance, oversight and accountability for speed of response and achievement of rapid impact, leading to the “creation of significant opportunities for corruption to thrive.”

“The health care sector is already considered vulnerable to corruption under normal circumstances. However, this vulnerability is amplified in times of health crises. Corruption can even exacerbate an outbreak or the spread of a virus and undermine efforts to contain a pandemic,” the report said.

The UNODC noted that an all-government response helps facilitate a strong COVID-19 recovery.

UNODC urged states to enhance coordination among oversight institutions through the COVID-19 response and recovery project.

During the virtual inquiry on the 2020 Commission on Audit report and other issues related to budget utilization of the Department of Health, especially its expenditures related to the fight against COVID, Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon committee, stressed that the country is in deep trouble and the Senate would not sit idly by while Filipinos are being abused.

The Senate is looking into why Pharmally Pharmaceutical Corp. was awarded a government deal despite allegedly overpriced medical supplies related to the pandemic.

Pharmally Pharmaceutical had been awarded P8.68 billion in government contracts.

President Duterte has again defended Pharmally Pharmaceutical and his former economic adviser, Michael Yang, who helped Pharmally supply items to the government for its COVID-19 response.

Duterte threatened to “find what’s wrong” with senators looking into the government’s deals with Pharmally, starting with Gordon.