What are We Going to do about Corruption in Global Health? Let’s Tell a Story.

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Abraar Karan
Dr. Abraar Karan is an MPH candidate at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. He has worked in several countries in Latin America, Asia, and Africa on global health and human rights projects. His current interests include health systems improvement, medical ethics, political leadership in health, and anti-corruption. Abraar graduated from UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine and Yale College. t: @AbraarKaran

In a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll from December 2015, the largest barrier to global health efforts as seen by the American public was corruption (almost 50% felt this was the single most important issue). As highlighted in a recent paper in BMC Medicine, one of the biggest challenges in addressing corruption in the healthcare sector globally is the lack of robust data. We simply don’t know the extent of corruption in all of its various forms, which makes it all the more challenging to do anything about it.

As a somewhat experienced global health wonk early in my career, I have personally witnessed a number of instances that made me uneasy to say the least. Was it corruption? Was it inefficiency? Was it just the complexity of global health in its day to day manifestations? Even at an individual level, I can’t be certain that what I witnessed working with a variety of NGOs in different countries constituted corruption in its most definitional sense.


A project to look at corruption in the global health and development sector through narrative voice.

What I do know is that I was not the only one who felt it. Other volunteers at organizations I worked for, usually during 3-4 month summer stints while a college student, shared similar dissatisfaction, disappointment, and discomfort.

We are long overdue for change. I am leading an effort called The Global Health Watch to collect stories of potential corruption in global health and development NGOs and non-profits to begin to address this problem from a narrative perspective. What happened? Why does it matter? Why do we need to know about it? With enough voices, we can make serious change. The survey instrument we are using is anonymous, and available in 5 languages (Arabic, English, Spanish, Hindi, Chinese). We are looking to spread this to collect as much data as possible over the next several months. Please, tell your story, or help enable someone else to tell theirs. This matters.