The World Health Organization reportedly spent more money last year on traveling around the globe, than they did on actually combating the world’s illnesses.
The health agency spent approximately $200 million on plane tickets, hotel accommodation and other travel expenses—more than its combined spending to tackle AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and hepatitis, according to an investigation by the Associated Press on May 21.
The organization may be a global entity, but it is funded by taxpayers via states’ contributions to the United Nations. The allegations around WHO’s travel spending are hard to reconcile when considering its increasingly desperate pleas for donor funding.
The investigation reveals that outgoing director-general Dr. Margaret Chan apparently preferred to fly and stay in luxury (Chan has headed the organization since November 2006). Just this month, Chan travelled to Guinea to celebrate the end of the Ebola virus outbreak there, and stayed at the presidential suite of the Palm Camayenne hotel, known for its “discreet luxury” at $1,008 a night. WHO intimated that the host country may have covered the hotel bill, which brings little comfort since Guinea’s health budget was depleted by the Ebola outbreak.
WHO denied Chan preferred first class, saying that she introduced a policy to restrict travel to business class for flights over nine hours long. WHO said Chan gets the same daily stipend as everyone else: €212, nearly $240. Last year, WHO spent $78 million staff travel, “roughly the same” as other UN agencies, WHO said in an email to Quartz.
In a May 22 statement, the WHO said nearly two thirds of its travel budget was spent on sending external experts to affected countries, adding that it has already cut its travel budget by 14% (thanks in part to few business class tickets) in 2016 to $200 million, compared to $234 million spent in the previous year.
The AP investigation alleges that in 2016, WHO spent $70.5 million on AIDS and hepatitis, $61 million on malaria and $59 million on TB—less than the $201 million spent on travel costs for around 7,000 staffers. At the time of publication, WHO’s media team told Quartz they would need more time to verify the AP’s figures. WHO’s program base budget (pdf) for 2016/2017 was $4400 million, an increase of $236.6 million from 2014/2015.