WHO spends lavishly on travel while pleading poverty

True or false: The U.N. is little better than a club for anti-American and anti-Israel countries and is full of bureaucrats who demand special privileges – the best restaurants, the best lodgings, and first-class travel accommodations – mostly paid for by the American taxpayer.

True on all counts.  And according to the AP, one of the worst offenders is the World Health Organization, whose bureaucrats insist on traveling first class, staying in five-star hotels, and enjoying a padded expense account.

The World Health Organization routinely spends about $200 million a year on travel – far more than what it doles out to fight some of the biggest problems in public health including AIDS, tuberculosis or malaria, according to internal documents obtained by The Associated Press.

As the cash-strapped U.N. health agency pleads for more money to fund its responses to health crises worldwide, it has also been struggling to get its own travel costs under control. Despite introducing new rules to try to curb its expansive travel budget, senior officials have complained internally that U.N. staffers are breaking the rules by booking perks like business class airplane tickets and rooms in five-star hotels.

Last year, WHO spent about $71 million on AIDS and hepatitis. On malaria, it spent $61 million. And to slow tuberculosis, WHO invested $59 million. Still, some health programs do get exceptional funding – the agency spends about $450 million trying to wipe out polio every year.

On a recent trip to Guinea, where WHO director-general Dr. Margaret Chan praised health workers in West Africa for triumphing over Ebola, Chan stayed in the biggest presidential suite at the Palm Camayenne hotel in Conakry. The suite has an advertised price of 900 euros ($1,008) a night. The agency declined to say who picked up the tab, noting only that her hotels are sometimes paid for by the host country.

But some say that sends the wrong message to the rest of the agency's 7,000 staffers.

Despite WHO's numerous travel regulations, Jeffreys said staffers "can sometimes manipulate a little bit their travel." He said the agency couldn't be sure they were always booking the cheapest ticket or that the travel was even warranted.

"When you spend the kind of money WHO is spending on travel, you have to be able to justify it," said Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Global Health Institute at Harvard University. "I can't think of any justification for ever flying first class."

There is a case to be made for the WHO's existence.  International health crises like Ebola demand an international response, and the WHO is set up to coordinate such.

But at what cost?  Clearly, WHO bureaucrats – like most U.N. bureaucrats – feel they are privileged and require only the best travel accommodations, not to mention gaudy salaries and other perks.

The U.N. can't be trusted to reform itself.  Only the major U.N. donors working together can force the U.N. to change.  And even then, the usefulness of the international body should be questioned.

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