By Chikezie Omeje
An investigation done by the Associated Press, AP, alleging frivolous expenditures by the World Health Organisation, WHO, has once again put United Nations agencies under close international scrutiny.
According to the report, WHO is spending more money on the travel bug than on fighting AIDS or malaria epidemic around the world.
The report reveals that WHO spends around $200 million a year on travel costs more than what it reserves for battling some of the world’s biggest health crisis.
It notes that WHO last year spent around $71 million on AIDS and hepatitis, $61 million on malaria and $59 million on tuberculosis, although it does allocate a generous $450 million to polio every year.
According to the report, other aid agencies manage to fly staff around on much tighter budgets — the UN’s children’s agency UNICEF spends $140 million a year and has twice the staff, while Doctors Without Borders forbids business-class travel and spends $43 million a year despite having more than five times as many staffers, the report claims.
The report notes that WHO defended itself by saying “the nature of WHO’s work often requires WHO staff to travel.”
It is not yet known how much WHO or other UN agencies spend on their travel in Nigeria. But the UN agencies have been criticised for spending more funds on logistics and welfare of their staff than on humanitarian assistance in the country, especially in the North East that had been ravaged by six years of Boko Haram insurgency.
Early in January this year, the Governor of Borno State, Kashim Shetima raised an alarm that UN humanitarian agencies spent more on their staff than helping the Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, in the state.
The governor specifically said UN agencies like the UNICEF were not doing enough to justify the funds at their disposal and that they had turned the state into their cash cow, spending the funds more on their staff welfare than on the displaced persons they came to help.
A story by icirnigeria.org quoted the governor as saying that “But particularly the UNICEF, considering the huge quantum of funds at their disposal, they are not really trying.”
However, the UN agencies promptly denied the allegation by the governor but did not disclose how much they spent on their staff.
The new Director-General of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia who was elected on Tuesday this week has promised to transform the organisation into a more effective, transparent, and accountable agency.
The new director general who was a former minister of health in Ethiopia is expected to reform the UN health agency to be more financially prudent and proactive in responding to health emergencies around the world.