Within the health sector, pharmaceuticals stands out as sub-sector that is particularly prone to corruption. There are abundant examples globally that display how corruption in the pharmaceutical sector endangers positive health outcomes. Whether it is a pharmaceutical company bribing a doctor for prescribing its medicines irrespective of a health need or a government employee facilitating the infiltration of substandard medicines into the distribution system, public resources can be wasted and patient health put at risk.
For policy makers to implement successful anti-corruption measures there is a need to identify and understand corruption vulnerabilities in the pharmaceutical sector. To support this task this paper identifies key policy and structural issues in selected activities of the pharmaceutical value chain, along with relevant anti-corruption policies. This analysis showed that anti-corruption policies are needed throughout the pharmaceutical value chain to increase transparency around key decision points and strengthen the accountability of actors.
Four overarching challenges derived from structural issues and anti-corruption policies across the selected activities of the value chain have been identified. These are:
- A lack of objective data and understanding of corruption inhibited by environmental context, the complexity of issues in the sector and policy makers not viewing corruption as an issue.
- A weak legislative and regulatory framework because of poor investment, a lack of oversight and national regulatory frameworks that are often decentralised and reliant on self-regulation for key decision-point.
- The potential for undue influence from companies due to a high degree of autonomy over key decision points and unparalleled resources, on policy and regulation so profit maximisation goes beyond ethical norms and negatively impacts health outcomes and public health objectives.
- A lack of leadership committed to anti-corruption efforts from all actors. National leaders often only implement reforms after a crisis, with their inaction regularly hindering other actors.
Similarly, three key action areas to mitigate corruption vulnerabilities in the pharmaceutical sector are examined. These include establishing leadership committed to addressing corruption, adopting technology throughout the value chain and ensuring accountability through increased monitoring, enforcement and sanctions.
These overarching challenges and action areas are neither novel nor resource-intensive, stressing the lack of effective action in the past; as well as the difficulty of dealing with corruption in a sector that is extremely complex, has a high level of government intervention and often has regulatory systems in place that are inadequate to properly govern the value chain. Only by overcoming these challenges and focusing on these action areas will the global health community be better able to meet the health Sustainable Development Goals.