Building global network to combat corruption in healthcare

Jillian Kohler, Director of U of T’s World Health Organization’s Collaborating Centre for Governance, Transparency and Accountability in the Pharmaceutical Sector

How can we enhance our ability to meet global challenges, including corruption?

Jillian Kohler, Director of U of T’s World Health Organization’s Collaborating Centre for Governance, Transparency and Accountability in the Pharmaceutical Sector (WHOCC) and Professor at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy is helping to build a global network that will bring together anti-corruption efforts and improve transparency and accountability in health systems around the world.

From February 26-28 Professor Kohler was a co-convener for a consultation in Geneva that brought together over 100 stakeholders including policy makers, government officials, researchers and representatives from civil society from around the globe to focus on the issue of how to implement anti-corruption, transparency and accountability in the health sector. The Consultation was led by three United Nations institutions -the WHO, the Global Fund, and the United Nations Development Programme, emphasizing the importance of this issue.

“Anticorruption and transparency measures are central components of health systems and are essential for upholding the right to health and other indivisible rights,” Kohler explains. Without these measures, resources meant to deliver on health goals can be wasted, trust in the health system can be weakened and, most importantly, human lives can be lost. In fact, researchers estimate that 1.6 per cent of world deaths in children, or 140,000 child deaths per year, could be indirectly attributed to corruption

A market place of ideas

While it is an emerging area of focus in many parts of the world, anticorruption work in the health sector has been largely fragmented. A Global Network on Anti-Corruption, Accountability and Transparency (GNACTA) would help build collective action and unify multisectoral approaches, identify shared problems, and develop research-supported solutions that could be implemented at the country level.

The consultation in Geneva focused on developing a shared vision on corruption risk management and produced a draft action plan for the Network.

“This was an incredible opportunity to focus on a global wicked problem,” says Kohler. “It was challenging and invigorating to focus so many experts from different sector and countries on a policy issue that demands careful thought, multisectoral solutions and innovation.”

Toward a nimble global network

Having worked out a vision and early priorities in Geneva, the next steps are underway and include developing  clear actions that would be linked to research and education, country-level programming and donor funding in health care .

Throughout the Consultation which included many working sessions, it was emphasized that the Network has the potential to harness opportunities for collaboration and partnerships across sectors and communities. A shift towards an output model, that aligns anti-corruption mechanisms to health delivery outcomes, was advanced. And, innovation which reduces corruption was emphasized throughout the three days.  Still, there are many barriers to this, including public perception, political realities, varying industry standards, and weak institutions.

“Twenty years ago, it was politically frowned upon to even say the word ‘corruption’ in official global meetings. It’s remarkable to see the strides we’ve made,” says Kohler. “The idea is that this new network will be global and multisectoral and more comprehensive then anything out there now,” says Kohler. “Nothing like this exists in the world.”