An attempt is made to explain why public health services in South Cameroon function inefficiently. Special attention is given to the distribution of medicines. The root cause of inefficiency is believed to be ‘corruption’, the private use of public goods. It is suggested that some degree of commercialization may solve the present problems and replace the ‘expensive free distribution’ of medicines by a paid distribution of cheap medicines. The research for this article was carried out in 1980 in South Cameroon.

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