16 November 2006 | Helen Gilbert
The World Health Organisation (WHO) is to set up a panel of advisers to help governments fight corruption in medicines procurement.
The United Nations says up to $50 billion (£26.9 billion) a year is spent on pharmaceutical products, but as much as a quarter of medicines bought are lost to fraud and bribery.
Howard Zucker, assistant director-general for health, technology and pharmaceuticals at the WHO, said: "This is an aberration when you think that poor populations struggle with the double bind of a high burden of disease and low access to medical products.
"Countries need to deal with this problem and ensure that the precious resources devoted to health are well spent."
Corruption ranges from bribery of government officials to registering medicines without the required information. It also includes theft and embezzlement in the distribution chain.
The panel of experts aims to combat this by promoting greater transparency in regulation and procurement.
It will develop a standardised system of checks to prevent abuse and make criteria for selecting regulatory and procurement staff and medical products publicly available.
Hans Hogerzeil, WHO director of medicines, policy and standards, said the most vulnerable, "low-income" countries would be the first helped by the group to promote money-saving tactics.
It will also stimulate reform of legislation to establish laws against corruption and identify appropriate enforcement and penalties.
The group's start date and membership are under discussion, but it will comprise figures from the regulation and supply of medicines, donors, civil society and WHO experts.