WHO spends more money on travel than on public health problems

WION Web Team
New Delhi, Delhi, India Published: Apr 02, 2020, 09:39 PM(IST)

WHO Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

The United Nations health agency has routinely spent about $200 million a year on travel expenses alone. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has come under a lot of scrutinies and not without reason. The UN-affiliated body has been accused of willfully parroting Chinese propaganda.

It has been accused by US Senators of downplaying the severity of the highly-infectious coronavirus outbreak in initial months. 

And now claims against the WHO’s frivolous travel expenses are beginning to crop up again after they were first reported in 2017. 

The United Nations health agency has routinely spent about $200 million a year on travel expenses alone. 

This is far more than what it doles out in public health including aids, tuberculosis and malaria combined. And it’s not just journalists obsessing over the WHO’s balance sheet. According to reports even the rest of its 7,000 staffers say it sends a wrong message to the world.

Especially when the cash-strapped health agency routinely pleads for more money to fund its responses to health crises worldwide. 

According to its statistics the WHO spent about $71 million on aids and hepatitis. It devoted $61 million to malaria. To slow the spread of tuberculosis, WHO invested $59 million. 

Still, some health programs do get exceptional funding — the agency spends about $450 million trying to wipe out polio every year and a similar amount was used to eradicate ebola.

Comparing these figures with what the WHO has spent on travel which is largely drawn from taxpayer-funded contributions of its 194 member countries shows a startling contrast 40% of WHO budget over 4 years was spent on travel alone. 

The numbers on your screen are startling, during 4 year period from 2013-17. Over $800 million from WHO's approximate budget of $2 billion was spent on travel. The truth is that the WHO has indeed struggled to get its travel costs under control.

Senior officials tasked with handling finance have lashed out against director-general officers like Dr Margaret Chan who helmed the health agency in 2013.

Earlier that year, a memorandum was sent to Chan and other top leaders urging her and her team to rein in travel costs. 

Chan’s team was so insolent that even Nick Jeffreys, WHO's director of finance had said ‘we don't trust people to do the right thing when it comes to travel’.

UN Staffers continued to break new rules that were introduced to try to curb travel spending booking perks like business class aeroplane tickets and rooms in five-star hotels with few consequences.

According to a press statement, the WHO meanwhile says that nearly 60 per cent of its travel costs were spent on sending outside experts to countries.

And for representatives from member countries to attend their meetings. During the Ebola disaster in West Africa, for example, the WHOs travel costs spiked to $234 million.

Just to remind our readers that 459 million dollars are what the WHO spent on fighting ebola. That is squarely 50% of the WHO’s ebola budget was used on travel expenses. 

While the three, worst-affected countries in West Africa bore the brunt of the outbreak and also paid for lavish arrangements demanded by WHO officials.Although under new leadership and having to face one of the most lethal and infectious pandemics in modern history. 

The WHO's track record when it comes to expansive travel costs remains a blight on its already questionable track record.

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