UN: WHO Spends More on Travel Than on Most Diseases


Maria Cheng

“WHO Spends More on Travel Than Disease; Health: Staff For the Cash-Strapped UN Health Agency is Ignoring Rules To Contain Travel Costs, According to Internal Documents”, in Seattle Times, May 22, 2017. p. A5.

WHO spends more than $200 million a year on travel, far more than it spends on some important diseases. In 2016, WHO spent $71 million on AIDS and hepatitis, $61 million on malaria, $59 million on Tuberculosis, and $450 on polio.

When WHO director-general Dr. Margaret Chan traveled to Guinea, where WHO fought Ebola, she stayed at the biggest presidential suit in the Palm Camayenne Hotel at $1008 a night. Critics note such extravagance sends the wrong message, and manipulation of travel expenses is rampant.

During the Ebola crisis, WHO spent $234 million on travel, and many thought those expenses were excessive, and that the spending cut into funding to actually fight Ebola. While WHO spent almost a quarter billion on travel, in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, people were dying because of a lack of rubber gloves, boots and soap. Chan and Dr. Bruce Aylward flew first class, and during the Ebola crisis traveled in the region by helicopter rather than by car.

Whistleblowers in WHO fear that if they are identified they will be fired immediately.

Since 2013, WHO has spent $803 million on travel. The annual budget of WHO is about $2 billion. Doctors Without Borders spends $43 million on travel a year, but it has 37000 workers, compared to WHO’s 7000 staffers. In 2016, UNICEF, with 13000 staffers, spent $140 million on travel.

Dr. Aishah Jha, director of the Global Health Institute at Harvard University observes that such wasteful spending can only make it harder for WHO to raise funds: In April it requested $126 milllion in new funding for the crisis in Yemen, and just before that sought $100 for the crisis in Somalia.