WHO spends more on travel than Aids, malaria and TB
World Health Organisation health workers wearing Ebola protective suits at Alabang, Muntinlupa city southeast of Manila, Philippines Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014. Source: AP Photo/Bullit Marquez
22nd May 2017
THE World Health Organisation (WHO) spends a whopping US$200 million annually on staff travel – far more than it allocates to some of the world’s biggest public health issues, including the fight against Aids, tuberculosis or malaria, according to internal documents obtained by the Associated Press (AP).
According to reports, via South China Morning Post
, the UN health agency staff have repeatedly broken in-house rules to fly business-class and stay in five-star hotels when travelling for work.
On a recent trip to Guinea on which WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan praised health workers in West Africa for their efforts fighting Ebola, the director-general stayed at the largest presidential suite at the Palm Camayenne Hotel in Conakry, a room that is advertised as costing US$1,008 per night.
WHO declined to comment on the expense but did note that sometimes Chan’s hotel stays are paid for by the host country.
Chan alone spent more than US$370,000 in travel in one year, with several anonymous sources within the agency claiming she often flies first-class.
WHO Director General Dr Margaret Chan gives a speech at the meeting of the G20 health ministers in Berlin, Germany, May 19, 2017. Source: Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch
“We don’t trust people to do the right thing when it comes to travel,” said Nick Jeffreys, WHO’s director of finance, during an in-house seminar on accountability in September 2015 – a video of which was obtained by the AP.
Despite introducing new rules in an attempt to curb the frivolous spending, Jeffreys said staffers “can sometimes manipulate a little bit their travel”. He said the agency couldn’t be sure they were always booking the cheapest ticket or that the travel was even warranted.
“People don’t always know what the right thing to do is,” he said.
An internal analysis released in March, showed the majority of the agency is consistently overspending on travel with only two of seven departments at WHO’s Geneva headquarters hitting their targets.
Since 2013, WHO has paid out US$803 million in travel expenses.
In comparison, the agency spent approximately US$71 million on Aids and hepatitis last year, US$61 million on malaria, and invested US$59 million to slow tuberculosis.
WHO’s US$2 billion annual budget is drawn from taxpayer-funded contributions from its 194 member countries. Its inability to get its travel spending under control may risk the agency’s credibility when it comes to asking for extra funds to combat emergencies.
Several weeks ago, WHO asked for about US$100 million to save people in Somalia from an ongoing drought. In April, it requested US$126 million to stop the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen. Director of the Global Health Institute at Harvard University, Dr Ashish Jha, pointed out the possible consequences of the overspending on fundraising ability.
“When you spend the kind of money WHO is spending on travel, you have to be able to justify it,” he said. “I can’t think of any justification for ever flying first class.”
“If WHO is not being as lean as possible, it’s going to be hard to remain credible when they make their next funding appeal.”