An investigation revealed the World Health Organization (WHO) spent nearly $192 million in travel last year, uncovering unapproved business class tickets and falsified reasons for trips. The body has recently requested more funds to tackle ongoing medical emergencies.
External auditors analyzed 116 travel claims marked as “emergency” requests, which turned out to be for regular duties like attending workshops, according to internal documents acquired by the Associated Press. Emergency requests usually bypass stricter control. The report also found more than 500 requests were for business class travel that failed to meet the organization’s criteria.
“Based on the difference in ticket costs for business class and economy class, savings could have been realized by the organization,” the report said.
The WHO Office of Internal Oversight said 13 percent of the fraud cases it investigated last year involved problems over travel claims.
Expenses are down by 4 percent from 2017, when the organization spent about $200 million annually on travel, including on first-class tickets and five-star hotels for its former director-general, Dr. Margaret Chan. The organization had promised reforms and stopped staffers from flying first class.
On Tuesday, WHO wrapped up its annual assembly in Geneva, where member state delegations reviewed and approved the proposed budget. The persistent Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has now killed more than 1,000 people, remains a major concern.
The organization needs to reprioritize its expenses to better assist those working on the frontline of emergencies, said Sophie Harman, a global health professor at Queen Mary University in London. “There’s a disconnect between the fact that people who are doing safe burials in [Congo] aren’t getting paid, yet someone is using WHO’s travel budget to fund their business-class ticket,” she said. —O.O.