THE EFFECT OF CORRUPTION ON THE RIGHT TO HEALTH

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), health means a complete state of mental,
physical and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. The right to
health is guaranteed under the Constitution of Kenya as well as international treaties and
conventions to which Kenya is party to. While this obligation has been placed upon the state to
ensure that the right to the highest attainable standard of health is realized progressively, corrupt actions by a few individuals is rendering the right unrealizable. The WHO notes that corrupt
activities damage the ability of healthcare systems to deliver high quality and effective attention
to those in need of it.  It impoverishes populations, increases inequality, and causes health status
to deteriorate, especially among the most vulnerable sections of the population.
Scholars and courts of superior record have described corruption to be a cancer, a form of
terrorism and a tyranny that robs the poor and makes it difficult for them to enjoy rights such as
health. As per the United Nations Development Programme, corruption cases range from the
‘grand’ cases involving multinationals and senior officials in government all down to the junior
staff and members of the public. Both are prevalent in Kenya, the minor cases ranging from
bribery, theft and absenteeism, which actions have in numerous ways impaired the enjoyment of
the right to health. For instance, in the month of June, two patients at a Laikipia hospital died
while awaiting treatment as the medical staff on duty held a surprise birthday party for a
colleague.
The list of mega corruption scandals facing the health sector as documented over the years
include the following:

  1. National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) graft allegations by its officials, and promotion
    of unqualified and unmerited staff to senior positions.
  2. The ‘Mafyahouse Scandal’ in which the IFMIS system was allegedly manipulated
    resulting in loss of about 5 billion shillings.
  3. The Managed Equipment Services (MES) project whose investigation by the Senate ad
    hoc committee revealed that it was “criminal enterprise” conceptualized to siphon tax
    payers of their money.
  4. Most recently, the #CovidMillionnaires expose of Kenya Medical Supplies Authority
    (KEMSA) having allegedly squandered COVID-19 pandemic funds and donations was
    confirmed by the Auditor General. That in its budgeting and financing processes,
    KEMSA violated public procurement and public finance management laws in all material
    aspects and there was no value for money realized as at the time of conduct of the audit, a
    huge percentage of the procured items still lied in the warehouse.
    The above instances clearly show how as a nation, corruption has made it difficult for the state to
    discharge its mandate to fulfil, respect and protect the right to health. Monies meant to purchase
    medical supplies, hire specialized staff and develop infrastructure for purposes of enabling
    citizens enjoy their right to health somehow end up lost in a manner unaccounted for resulting in
    losses and deaths in their various forms. The link between corruption and violation of human

rights has been clearly documented and it is critical at this point to note that curbing corruption
would mean a step further in realizing basic human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially
those that impose a budgetary implication upon the state. A key target under the Sustainable
Development Goals (SDGs) is that by the year 2030, we ought to have attained good health and
well-being for all Kenyans. Good health and well-being are only attainable if according to
Transparency International, ‘ignored pandemics’ such as corruption are dealt with.
Corruption is related to human rights, to the extent that its perpetration results in violation of
fundamental human rights and freedoms such as the right to health. This article contends that the
anti-corruption agenda is not an easy one and that it will entail transforming our political, social
and democratic agenda if at all we are to face it the way countries such as Singapore did. Kenya
should perhaps benchmark such models, adopt a human rights approach to corruption as well as
work towards disincentivizing the vice. Perhaps that’s the first step, progress could be made from
that point. Dealing with corruption should be a priority so that rights such as health are realized;
reproductive and emergency healthcare and many other critical needs are life-saving and this can
only be understood if viewed from the perspective of poor Kenyans who cannot afford such
services in luxurious private hospitals.

Author: Judith Jepkorir

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