The World Health Organisation has become the subject of criticism after an AP report revealed that the United Nations body spends around $200 million a year on travel expenses alone. This is far more than what it spends to fight some of the world’s biggest public health crises, including AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, the report said. In 2016, WHO spent about $71 million to fight AIDS and hepatitis, $61 million on malaria and $59 million on tuberculosis.
Earlier this month, Dr Margaret Chan, director-general of the WHO, travelled to Guinea, where she joined the country’s president to celebrate the world’s first Ebola vaccine. AP reported that Chan (pictured above) spent the night in the presidential suite of the Palm Camayenne hotel, which had an advertised price of $1,008 per night. When AP asked WHO to comment on the matter, the UN body declined to say if it had paid for Chan’s stay at the hotel, but said that host countries sometimes picked up her hotel tabs.
Critics have said that their failure to curb their travel expenses would have an impact on the body’s fundraising efforts. Senior officials within the body said that some of the UN staffers showed complete disregard for the new rules aimed at controlling travel expenses, booking perks such as business class airplane tickets and rooms in five-star hotels.
“We don’t trust people to do the right thing when it comes to travel,” Nick Jeffreys, WHO’s director of finance, had said in September 2015 during an in-house seminar on accountability. The video of the event was obtained by AP. Jeffreys said the agency was not able to determine if its staffers always booked the cheapest fares or that their travel was even warranted.
Ian Smith, executive director of Chan’s office, added,“We, as an organisation, sometimes function as if rules are there to be broken and that exceptions are the rule rather than the norm.”