Although the World Health Organization (WHO) has failed over the last 70 years at its charter mission to realise the right of everyone to enjoy the highest attainable standards of health, it has succeeded in assuring that the WHO itself enjoys the highest attainable standards of privilege, well hidden from public view by its lack of transparency. A recent article in the Washington Post (see below) revealed that the annual travel budget of the WHO was in excess of $200 million each year, more than the total amount they spend on HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, tuberculosis and malaria combined.
The WHO is mandated to serve first and foremost those that are the most vulnerable, the billions of poor or marginalised, and people struggling to survive life-threatening diseases or life-changing disabilities. Instead, it seems to first make sure that it serves its own interest and those of the 193 governments (Member States) that have complete control over the governance of the WHO. As the oversight of the WHO is in the hands of these Member States, including hundreds of governments with long histories of high-level corruption, a culture of institutional impunity is allowed to go unchecked, while transparency is limited. Five star hotels and first class travel are just some of the many privileges and perks provided to long term staff, as well as substantial tax-free salaries. Meetings are held in luxury settings around the world, with a mix of the international and national elite in attendance to declare that these important gatherings are essential to improve the health and well-being of the world.
Those that the WHO should prioritise, the people most affect by health inequities and most in need of their right to health, are excluded from participating in the governance of the WHO. Their community organisations also have no say in how the WHO manages its programmes or spends its funds, which mostly come from governments through taxation of the public. As seen at other UN entities such as UNAIDS, the inclusion of representatives from these most affected communities ‘at the table’ contributes to increasing the accountability of the institution. Without the participation of the most affected communities, it’s almost impossible to fully monitor programmes or ‘follow the money’ to see what the WHO is doing on the ground, or in the air.
I applaud the journalist that did the research that led to this extravagant WHO expenditure being made public. I had tried a few years ago to find out this information but was informed by the WHO that it was confidential, as were the details of the contract with their sole ‘official’ travel agent and any of the other aspects of travel and meeting expenses.
We need a WHO that is democratic and that can be monitored by those it is mandated to serve. We need to participate, through a system of accountable representation, in the decisions about us and the programmes intended for our communities. It is time for fundamental reform at WHO.
Stella (@UppityCup )
WHO’s annual travel budget: $200 million
By Maria Cheng
LONDON — The World Health Organization routinely spends about $200 million a year on travel — far more than what it doles out to fight some of the biggest problems in public health including AIDS, tuberculosis or malaria, according to internal documents obtained by the Associated Press.
As the cash-strapped United Nations health agency pleads for more money to fund its responses to health crises worldwide, it also has been struggling to control its own travel costs. Despite introducing new rules to try to curb its expansive travel budget, senior officials have complained internally that U.N. staff members are breaking the rules by booking perks such as business-class airplane tickets and rooms in five-star hotels.
Last year, WHO spent about $71 million on AIDS and hepatitis. On malaria, it spent $61 million. And to slow 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.
On a recent trip to Guinea, where WHO Director-General Margaret Chan praised health workers in West Africa for triumphing over Ebola, Chan stayed in the biggest presidential suite at the Palm Camayenne hotel in Conakry. The suite has an advertised price of 900 euros ($1,008) a night. The agency declined to say who picked up the tab, noting only that her hotels are sometimes paid for by the host country.
But some say that sends the wrong message to the rest of the agency’s 7,000 staff members.
“We don’t trust people to do the right thing when it comes to travel,” Nick Jeffreys, WHO’s director of finance, said during an in-house seminar on accountability in September 2015 — a video of which was obtained by the AP.
Despite WHO’s numerous travel regulations, Jeffreys said staff members “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.
Ian Smith, executive director of Chan’s office, said the chair of WHO’s audit committee said the agency often did little to stop misbehavior.
“We, as an organization, sometimes function as if rules are there to be broken and that exceptions are the rule rather than the norm,” Smith said.
Earlier that year, a memorandum was sent to Chan and other top leaders with the subject, “ACTIONS TO CONTAIN TRAVEL COSTS” in all-caps. The memo reported that compliance with rules that travel be booked in advance was “very low” and also pointed out that WHO was under pressure from its member countries to save money.
In a statement to the AP, the U.N. health agency said “the nature of WHO’s work often requires WHO staff to travel” and such costs had been reduced 14 percent last year compared to the previous year — although that year’s total was exceptionally high because of the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
— Associated Press
Source: Washington Post, 21/05/2017