Do NGOs corrupt health institutions?

Many international organizations and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) support health work in developing countries. Often, their work is to train staff to get necessary skills, and thus improve health services. Each NGO have their specific goals, and wish these tasks to be carried out at institution. Good examples that have helped many patients include HIV work, reproductive health, and support to specialists to carry out operations at rural institutions.

Although the NGOs do this with the best of intentions, their support is often misused, and unfortunately weakens institutional sustainability and equity.

Some negative examples from south Ethiopia include:

  1. A NGO supports that patients with diseases such cleft lips are operated at district hospitals. The organizations provide the local staff with good training to carry out such treatment. Many patients receive good treatment. Unfortunately, we often note after the early campaigns, operations are not done between campaigns as planned. The NGO pays extra for each operation to the staff during campaigns, but not for operations done between campaigns. This often leads to staff only operating when they receive extra payment. This is an example of “misuse of entrusted power for private gain” (Transparency international definition of corruption).
  2. UN organizations and NGOs often organize training seminars and workshops. The participants might receive daily allowances up to half of their monthly salaries. Unfortunately, some participants are not even qualified to carry out the intended work. We know of examples when managers, without medical training, took part in course on how to treat drug resistant tuberculosis. And some staff take part in courses to resuscitate neonates, but never work in a delivery ward. Again, examples of “misuse of entrusted power for private gain”.

I believe it is time for NGOs and International organizations to look into the side effects of their massive support to health institutions. A proper question is: Are there alternative ways to support institutions with much needed training, and at the same time not tempting the institutions and individuals to take part in corruption?

Most international organizations and NGOs have increased sustainability and equity as part of their visions. If sustainability and equity is a goal for such organization, new ways to support the institutions should be sought.

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