In May 2012, Iraq’s Health Ministry announced that it found several tons of expired medicine, and had closed down dozens of unlicensed pharmacies across the country over the last several months. What was not reported was that the Ministry itself was probably responsible for these problems. Due to rampant corruption throughout the government, bureaucracies regularly buy cheap imports rather than high quality goods, because money is being skimmed from the contracts. Not only that, but they often use middlemen connected to Iraqi politicians and high officials who take their share as well. The result is that Iraq is awash in low quality products that often cheat the public.
On May 14, 2012, it was reported that the Health Ministry had clamped down on a series of pharmacies that had bad medicine. Around one hundred unlicensed businesses were shut down in April, and four tons of expired medicine was confiscated in the process. That followed another 200 closings the previous month, and another six tons of bad products being destroyed. This was just not an isolated incident, but a sign of the institutional corruption endemic in Iraq. A pharmacist that worked for the government for instance, told Ned Parker, formerly of the Los Angeles Times, that he would regularly see cheap medicine being bought from abroad with no quality control checks. They usually involved kickbacks for bureaucrats as well in the deals. Not enough supplies were purchased either, with hospitals complaining about a lack of drugs and medicines. The situation was so bad, that some asked their patients to go buy supplies for their own procedures. The Health Ministry was supposed to take care of these matters, but it often did not fill orders placed with it. Instead, Ministry workers would steal drugs to re-sell on the black market, take bribes, and as stated before, buy expired medicine instead of new ones as another way to make money.
|Iraq's hospitals often lack medicine and supplies because of inefficiencies and corruption at the Health Ministry (Washington Post)
These problems exist in all parts of Iraq. In Kurdistan for example, President Massoud Barzani set up a committee to look into government corruption in April 2011 as a response to public protests there. (1) It found the exact same set of circumstances with the Kurdish Health Ministry buying large amounts of counterfeit and expired medicine from abroad. The committee reported that nothing substantive was being done about the issue either, and that the top leadership was partly responsible. The president’s office and cabinet signed many contracts without ever going through the relevant ministries. The ruling Kurdish parties like to portray themselves as the “other Iraq,” which is better off than the rest of the country. When it comes to corruption and inefficiency due to a state-run economy it is no better than Baghdad.
Iraq has consistently been ranked one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Because it is the most oil dependent nation in the region it has huge amounts of cash, which makes it unaccountable to the public. The only thing politicians need the people for is their votes every couple years. Otherwise they do not depend upon them for taxes and revenue. The citizens are instead reliant upon the government for food, services, and jobs. Given that position, top officials to the lowest bureaucrat feel that they can take from the system what they can get. The result is hospitals without supplies, bad medicine being handed out to patients, and people lining their pockets with public funds in corrupt deals. Instead of serving their country, the government is only serving itself.
1. Zebari, Abdel Hamid, “Report: Corruption is rampant on a large scale in Kurdistan,” Radio Free Iraq, 3/13/12
Dazzayi, Saman, “100 unlicensed Iraqi pharmacies closed last month,” AK News, 5/14/12
Parker, Ned, “The Iraq We Left Behind,” Foreign Affairs, March/April 2012
Reilly, Corinne, “Iraq’s once-envied health care system lost to war, corruption,” McClatchy Newspapers, 5/17/09
Zebari, Abdel Hamid, “Report: Corruption is rampant on a large scale in Kurdistan,” Radio Free Iraq, 3/13/12