Publication date: Nov 24, 2023
Health systems are often susceptible to corruption risks. Corruption within health systems has been found to negatively affect the efficacy, safety, and, significantly, equitable distribution of health products. Enforcing effective anti-corruption mechanisms is important to reduce the risks of corruption but requires first an understanding of the ways in which corruption manifests. When there are public health crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, corruption risks can increase due to the need for accelerated rates of resource deployment that may result in the bypassing of standard operating procedures. A rapid review was conducted to examine factors that increased corruption risks during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as potential anti-corruption, transparency and accountability (ACTA) mechanisms to reduce these risks. A search was conducted including terms related to corruption, COVID-19, and health systems from January 2020 until January 2022. In addition, relevant grey literature websites were hand searched for items. A single reviewer screened the search results removing those that did not meet the inclusion criteria. This reviewer then extracted data relevant to the research objectives from the included articles. 20 academic articles and 17 grey literature pieces were included in this review. Majority of the included articles described cases of substandard and falsified products. Several papers attributed shortages of these products as a major factor for the emergence of falsified versions. Majority of described corruption instances occurred in low- and middle-income countries. The main affected products identified were chloroquine tablets, personal protective equipment, COVID-19 vaccine, and diagnostic tests. Half of the articles were able to offer potential anti-corruption strategies. Shortages of health products during the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to be associated with increased corruption risks. We found that low- and middle-income countries are particularly vulnerable to corruption during global emergencies. Lastly, there is a need for additional research on effective anti-corruption mechanisms.