Various studies suggest that corruption affects public health systems across the world. However, the extant literature lacks causal evidence about whether anti-corruption interventions can improve health outcomes. We examine the impact of randomized anti-corruption audits on early-life mortality in Brazil.
The Brazilian government conducted audits in 1,949 randomly selected municipalities between 2003 and 2015. To identify the causal effect of anti-corruption audits on early-life mortality, we analyse data on health outcomes from individual-level vital statistics (DATASUS) collected by Brazil’s government before and after the random audits. Data on the audit intervention are from the Controladoria-Geral da Uniao, the government agency responsible for the anti-corruption audits. Outcomes are neonatal mortality, infant mortality, child mortality, preterm births, and prenatal visits. Analyses examine aggregate effects for each outcome, as well as effects by race, cause of death, and years since the intervention.
Anti-corruption audits significantly decreased early-life mortality in Brazil. Expressed in relative terms, audits reduced neonatal mortality by 6.7% (95% CI −8.3%, −5.0), reduced infant mortality by 7.3% (−8.6%, −5.9%), and reduced child mortality by 7.3% (−8.5%, −6.0%). This reduction in early mortality was higher for nonwhite Brazilians, who face significant health disparities. Effects are greater when we look at deaths from preventable causes, and show temporal persistence with large effects even a decade after audits. In addition, analyses show that the intervention led to a 12.1% (−13.4%, −10.6%) reduction in women receiving no prenatal care, as well as a 7.4% (−9.4%, −5.5%) reduction in preterm births; these effects are likewise higher for nonwhites and are persistent over time. All effects are robust to various alternative specifications.
Governments have the potential to improve health outcomes through anti-corruption interventions. Such interventions can reduce early-life mortality and mitigate health disparities. The impact of anti-corruption audits should be investigated in other countries, and further research should further explore the mechanisms by which combating corruption affects the health sector.
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Antonio Pedro Ramos - is a Research Scientist at the department of Biostatistics at Fielding School of Public Health, University of California, Los Angeles. He is also affiliated with the California Center of Population Research. He works on the Politics of Health, Health Inequality, and on the development of new methods to study Health Inequality, with special emphasis on early-life mortality. His work has been supported by the National Institute of Health, UCLA, and FGV, among others. His articles have been published in journals, such as Social Science and Medicine, PlosOne and Population Health Metrics.