A deadly disease

Kyiv Post Editorial

May 22. 2020

Ukraine will spend $4.2 billion on health care this year, probably a record amount, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But another real disease that Ukraine must conquer is that of corruption.

It’s bad enough that President Volodymyr Zelensky has had three health ministers after deciding not to keep the widely respected holdover from his predecessor’s term, Ulana Suprun.

But already there are signs that corruption has returned in full swing to the Ministry of Health, which has been a good place to rob taxpayers while depriving people of affordable medical care.

How did it work?

Until 2015, those who ran the health ministry enriched themselves and their cronies by using the state budget to buy medicine and equipment at inflated prices, pocketing extravagant kickbacks of up to 40% more than the supplies should have cost.

Read this week’s “The Big Interview” on page 2 with lawmaker and former deputy health minister Olga Stefanyshyna. She explains how the schemes worked, who profited and how they were stopped — until now, when corruption appears to be making a comeback under Health Minister Maksym Stepanov, on the job only since March 30, despite his denials.

The situation got so bad that, in 2015, international organizations took over the purchasing until the state enterprise was established, Medical Procurement of Ukraine, to conduct transparent and competitive state purchases of medicine and equipment. But a recent example in which the Stepanov-led ministry paid twice as much for personal protective equipment is causing alarm.

Not only did the government overpay for the gear meant to protect doctors, but much of the equipment also has yet to be delivered — nearly two months after the purchase. And the gear that did arrive did so only this week, meaning none of it had yet reached doctors and nurses.

“They lie at every step,” lawmaker Oleksandra Ustinova, a respected anti-corruption activist before her  2019 election to parliament, said of the health ministry’s $1.3 million purchase of Chinese suits.

Fortunately, the reformers of Ukraine — Stefanyshyna and Ustinova among them — have shown us the way in this case.

What the public needs to do is track how future purchases are made.

Will the ministry use Medical Procurement of Ukraine, the state enterprise established for this purpose, or respected international organizations?

Or will the Ministry of Health create an “internal tender committee” as it has in the past that makes uncompetitive purchases at inflated prices?

The answers should be obvious soon.

Corruption kills — especially when front-line medical workers don’t get enough supplies or patients don’t get enough medicine.

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