Rampant theft, bribery and favouritism in health care around the world during COVID-19 pandemic


December 17 – Rampant theft, bribery and favouritism have become commonplace in health care around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new report by Transparency International.

The Ignored Pandemic behind COVID-19 compiles evidence that corruption has flourished during the pandemic, exacerbated by the need for rapid government responses and lax checks and balances. The report highlights examples of corruption across the world, including the US, France, Germany, Bangladesh, Brazil and Uganda.


While cases of corruption in the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) and lack of transparency in clinical trials and therapeutics have been well publicised, the extent of corruption in other aspects of health care has flown under the radar.

The report identifies distinctive forms of corruption in healthcare delivery, including:

• Theft/embezzlement of publicly funded medicines, vaccines and therapeutics
• Service Provision
• Informal payments and bribes
• Favouritism
• Data manipulation

Key findings include:

– Transparency International’s Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres (ALACS) in 24 countries have reported patients paying bribes for PPE and Covid-19 tests in Africa, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and South-East Asia.
– In Uganda and Cameroon, there is evidence that foreign citizens have evaded quarantine rules by bribing officials.
– In Brazil, 15,000 coronavirus diagnostic tests and more than two million personal protective items—including goggles, gloves, hand sanitizer and face masks—were stolen from a cargo terminal at São Paulo’s Guarulhos International Airport.
– The US Department of Justice charged a healthcare technology company for alleged involvement with fraudulent claims for allergy and Covid-19 testing.
– In Bangladesh, high ranking officials in the Ministry of Health approved Covid-19 testing by two unlicensed hospitals. The hospitals provided fake coronavirus certificates to many patients, including Bangladeshis who subsequently travelled to Italy.
– In Brazil, the government has been accused of manipulating Covid-19 data when it stopped releasing the cumulative numbers of confirmed Covid-19 cases in June.
– Interpol has raised concerns about the threat from organised crime on vaccine distribution and the potential spread of substandard and falsified versions of the Covid-19 vaccine.

Rachel Cooper, Director of Transparency International’s Health Initiative said:

“The pandemic has created the perfect conditions for corruption in healthcare to flourish. We know people are being forced to pay bribes for access to medicine and treatments, that PPE and medicines are being stolen and that some governments mislead the public by misrepresenting data about COVID-19. Our report reveals this is happening all too often around the world, preventing millions of people from getting the life-saving health care they desperately need to keep them safe during this crisis.

“We recognise the pressures on health care systems during this crisis, but we must learn from this. Governments and health leaders need to recognise the devastating impact corruption has on getting health care to people and urgently put in place mechanisms to protect them now and in in the future.”

The report calls on global health leaders to recognise and address the impact of corruption by:

• Acting to embed anti-corruption approaches into their work, and work with national governments to ensure they understand the risks of corruption to public health care.
• Putting in place measures to protect supply chains for vaccines and other therapeutics from embezzlement.
• Building transparency, accountability, integrity, and multi-stakeholder participation into all Covid-19 related programmes, plans, and policies.

Notes to editors:
The report is based on an analysis of literature and news reports from around the world
It builds on last year’s groundbreaking report, The Ignored Pandemic, which outlined the damage caused by corruption in health service delivery.
Before the pandemic, 140,000 children a year died as a result of corruption in health service care delivery.

About Transparency International’s Health Initiative:
As part of Transparency International, the world’s leading anti-corruption organisation, the Health Initiative works to achieve genuine change in the pharmaceutical and healthcare sector through reducing corruption and promoting transparency, integrity and accountability.

Mallary Gelb
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