Corruption in healthcare is rife across the globe - in both rich and poor countries - according to the latest report by Transparency International, the global coalition against corruption, which calls for a heightened effort to put an end to these dangerous activities.

According to the Global Corruption Report 2006, theft, bribery and extortion rob millions of people of even the most basic healthcare and, what’s more, counterfeit drugs are not only responsible for thousands of deaths each year, but they also help diseases build up immunity to our most effective drugs.

For those subjected to unethical providers of healthcare, eradicating corruption really can be a matter of life and death. As Huguette Labelle, Chair of Transparency International, points out: “Corruption in health care costs more than money. When an infant dies during an operation because an adrenalin injection to restart her heart was actually just water – how do you put a price on that?” And summing up the situation, he simply states: “The price of corruption in healthcare is paid in human suffering.”

The group’s spotlight on the global $3 trillion healthcare sector has revealed a maze of complex systems that are wide open to corruption. And, while the organisation concedes that the majority employees in the sector carry out their duties with the utmost integrity, it is the smaller minority, involved in petty thievery and extortion through to bending of healthcare policy and pay-offs to officials, that are causing major concern.

“Corruption eats away at the public’s trust in the medical community,” said David Nussbaum, Chief Executive of Transparency International. “People have a right to expect that the drugs they depend on are real. They have a right to think that doctors place a patient’s interests above profits. And most of all, they have a right to believe that the health care industry is there to cure, not to kill.”

According to the report, to effectively combat corruption in the health care industry there must be an increase in transparency, and the group calls for: health authorities to grant members of the public easy access to information on health-related projects, budgets and policies; budget information to be made available on the Internet and subject to independent audits; the adoption and enforcement of codes of conduct for health workers and private sector companies, with provision of ongoing anti-corruption training; the implementation of conflict-of-interest rules in drug regulation and physician licensing procedures; and public health policies and projects to be independently monitored at the national and international level, with resulting reports open to public scrutiny. In addition, it states that greater protection for whistleblowers and tighter prosecution will also help combat corruption.