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Corruption in health services is damaging development

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Transparency Int'l

Ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all is vital for the development of individuals and societies. Corruption can undermine health services and make this very difficult to achieve.

Improving health is key to achieving almost all of the Sustainable Development Goals, the United Nation’s targets for ending poverty, protecting the planet and ensuring peace for all by 2030. Without good health, children can’t access education and adults can’t work. Climbing out of poverty becomes more difficult, as does reducing inequalities.

Embezzlement in Honduras

Honduras is among the poorest and most violent countries in the world, plagued with widespread corruption that affects almost every area of peoples’ lives. This includes their ability to access quality health services.

Marixa Ramírez ran Honduras’ central medication warehouse — the national medicine and healthcare supplies distributor — for 26 years until 2013.

That’s when the Asociación por una Sociedad más Justa (ASJ), Transparency International’s Honduran chapter, received allegations of widespread corruption in the warehouse through its Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre.

A week after ASJ presented its report and a formal complaint to the government, the Minister of Health ordered a thorough investigation.

In 2017, Ramírez was convicted of seven counts of embezzlement by the Sentencing Tribunal of Tegucigalpa, while other staff were also implicated. Not only did their fraud cost the state millions of dollars; it denied citizens access to the medication they needed.

ASJ acted as an official observer during the judicial process to make sure it was fair. It also influenced a systemic change: an independent trust has been appointed to manage the distribution of medication in Honduras. Alongside two other civil society organisations, ASJ has been tasked with monitoring the trust’s work.

Tackling corruption through the Sustainable Development Goals

Corruption in health services, like this case in Honduras, costs lives and undermines Sustainable Development Goal 3 on health. We need institutions that uphold good governance, rule of law and democracy, as they reduce opportunities for corruption and hold the corrupt to account.

To achieve this, governments should support peace, justice and strong institutions in line with Sustainable Development Goal 16 — which addresses corruption — and should annually review Goal 16’s progress at the Sustainable Development Goals High Level Political Forum.

Transparency International’s Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres provide free legal advice and assistance to victims and witnesses of corruption. Find out more at ASJ’s Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre is partly funded by Global Affairs Canada under the IMPACT Grant.

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