- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2017

The World Health Organization spends hundreds of millions of dollars more on travel expenses for its staff than it does on fighting AIDS globally, according to an analysis of internal documents obtained by The Associated Press.

In an exclusive investigation, the wire service found that employees of the charitable and international health body fly business class over economy and stay in five-star resorts in the countries where they’re working.

“We don’t trust people to do the right thing when it comes to travel,” said Nick Jeffreys, WHO’s director of finance, in a September 2015 in-house seminar video obtained by the AP.

The travel expenses add up to about $200 million, the AP reported, compared to funds spent on fighting global disease, which include $71 million on AIDS and hepatitis, $61 million to battle malaria and $59 million against tuberculosis.

However, the agency does spend about $450 million a year trying to wipe out polio, the AP reported.

In a statement to the AP, WHO said that the agency had reduced costs by 14 percent in 2016, although travel costs in 2015 were exceptionally high because of the 2014 Ebola Outbreak in West Africa.

The United Nations health body has a $2 billion annual budget and a staff of 7,000 people. The budget is drawn from tax-payer contributions from the 194 member nations, the AP reported.

Particular criticism of abuse of travel fell on WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan, who recently celebrated 10 years as head of the organization, but is listed as the second-highest spender on travel costs in the organization, according to a confidential, 25-page internal memo obtained by the AP.

Dr. Chan reportedly racked up more than $370,000 in travel costs in 2014 and often flew first class, the AP cited three employees as telling the news service.

Dr. Bruce Aylward, the director of WHO’s outbreak response, was No. 1 on the list with $400,000 in travel costs, attributed with taking helicopter rides during the Ebola crisis as opposed to traveling by jeep on under-developed roads to remote areas, the AP reported.

The AP report was released as WHO began its 70th World Heath Assembly in Geneva on Monday, with elections for a new director-general expected to take place on Tuesday.

Dr. Chan spoke at the assembly, saying that “WHO stands for fairness” and that reducing inequalities should be a guiding principle for the Health Assembly — which is composed of representatives from WHO member states and agencies, organizations and foundations working in global, public health.

There are three nominees for the position, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia; Dr. David Nabarro of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; and Dr. Sania Nishtar of Pakistan. Votes will take place by secret ballot among member states, and the director-general will serve for a five-year term beginning on July 1, 2017.

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