30 Mayo 2017 15:08
An investigation has blown the lid off the organisation’s exorbitant spending on business-class flights and presidential suites
200 million dollars: the yearly staff travel costs at the World Health Organisation. According to internal documents obtained by The Associated Press, the world’s largest health body spends three times more on travel than it does on combatting some of our most serious health problems.
In the past year alone, the WHO has spent 71 million dollars on fighting HIV and hepatitis, 61 on malaria and 59 million dollars on tackling tuberculosis. The travel costs for its 7000 employees, however, were equal to the amount spent on dealing with today’s three most prevalent diseases combined. Since 2013, 803 million dollars have been blown on travel by the organisation.
According to the AP, an internal analysis carried out by the WHO in March this year found that just two out of the seven departments in the organisation’s headquarters in Geneva met their budget targets and that the compliance rate for booking travel in advance fluctuated between 28 and 59%.
'The world’s largest health body spends three times more on travel than it does on combatting some of our most serious health problems'
'We don’t trust people to do the right thing when it comes to travel,' said the WHO director of finance Nick Jeffreys during an internal seminar in September 2015. In the video recording obtained by the AP agency, Jeffreys maintains that 'employees can sometimes manipulate a little bit their travel' and that the agency was not sure if people were booking the lowest fares or that their travel was warranted.
Early in the year, the WHO sent out an internal memorandum to various high-level staff members - including the WHO’s director-general, Margaret Chan, – with the subject line ACTIONS TO CONTAIN TRAVEL COSTS in capital letters. The memorandum reported that compliance with the regulations on advanced bookings was 'very low.' The document also indicated that the WHO was under pressure from its member countries to save money.
The AP found out that the organisation’s director herself, Chan, spent a night in the presidential suite of a beachfront hotel, complete with marble bathrooms, on a trip to Guinea to celebrate the eradication of ebola; it would have cost 1,008 dollars a night.
In response to the leaked documents, the WHO has responded to the AP agency saying that 'the nature of WHO's work often requires WHO staff to travel and that expenses have been reduced by 14% compared with the previous year, although the total of that year was exceptionally high due to the 2015 ebola outbreak in West Africa.'
'There's a huge inequality between the people at the top who are getting helicopters and business class and everyone else who just has to make do,' explained Sophie Harman, an expert in global health politics at Queen Mary University in London.
'We don’t trust people to do the right thing when it comes to travel'
Other international aid agencies, like Doctors Without Borders, explicitly forbid staff to travel business class. With a workforce of 37,000 employees, this organisation spends 43 million dollars on travel a year; a figure dwarfed by the 200 million dollars spent by the WHO on its 7,000 employees. 'Travel is necessary,' pointed out the WHO in its message, but 'as an organisation we must demonstrate that we are serious about managing this appropriately.'