Corruption in Anglophone West Africa health systems: a systematic review of its different variants and the factors that sustain them

Obinna Onwujekwe, Prince Agwu (Lead / Corresponding author), Charles Orjiakor, Martin McKee, Eleanor Hutchinson, Chinyere Mbachu, Aloysius Odii, Pamela Ogbozor, Uche Obi, Hyacinth Ichoku, Dina Balabanova

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

55 Citations (Scopus)


West African countries are ranked especially low in global corruption perception indexes. The health sector is often singled out for particular concern given the role of corruption in hampering access to, and utilization of health services, representing a major barrier to progress to universal health coverage and to achieving the health-related Sustainable Development Goals. The first step in tackling corruption systematically is to understand its scale and nature. We present a systematic review of literature that explores corruption involving front-line healthcare providers, their managers and other stakeholders in health sectors in the five Anglophone West African (AWA) countries: Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, identifying motivators and drivers of corrupt practices and interventions that have been adopted or proposed. Boolean operators were adopted to optimize search outputs and identify relevant studies. Both grey and published literature were identified from Research Gate, Yahoo, Google Scholar, Google and PubMed, and reviewed and synthesized around key domains, with 61 publications meeting our inclusion criteria. The top five most prevalent/frequently reported corrupt practices were (1) absenteeism; (2) diversion of patients to private facilities; (3) inappropriate procurement; (4) informal payments; and (5) theft of drugs and supplies. Incentives for corrupt practices and other manifestations of corruption in the AWA health sector were also highlighted, while poor working conditions and low wages fuel malpractice. Primary research on anti-corruption strategies in health sectors in AWA remains scarce, with recommendations to curb corrupt practices often drawn from personal views and experience rather that of rigorous studies. We argue that a nuanced understanding of all types of corruption and their impacts is an important precondition to designing viable contextually appropriate anti-corruption strategies. It is a particular challenge to identify and tackle corruption in settings where formal rules are fluid or insufficiently enforced.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)529-543
Number of pages15
JournalHealth Policy and Planning
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2019


  • African health systems
  • Anglophone West Africa
  • Health sector
  • health sector corruption
  • universal health coverage

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy


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