Five-star hotel rooms and expensive first- and business-class flights, those are the perks of working at the UN’s World Health Organisation (WHO). Last year, the WHO spent $200 million on travel expenses. That amount is more than its aids- ($71 million), hepatitis-, malaria- ($61 million), and tuberculosis projects ($59 million) combined. Leaked internal documents show the WHO recognises the problem, but claims it has difficulty controlling its travel budget.

When comparing the WHO’s travel budget to other international non-profit organisations, it becomes clear how deep the problem really is. With 7000 employees, the WHO spends $200 million. Well, Doctors Without Borders, for example, has 37.000 employees and has a travel budget of $43 million (!!). UNICEF (also a UN organisation) has 13.000 employees, with a travel budget of $140 million.

The leaked internal document also revealed that UN-member states repeatedly asked the WHO to control their budget. The WHO replied to this by stating that they already made a budget cut of 14%. This means their expenses in 2015 were $228 million (!).

Now consider the following; several weeks ago the WHO asked the UN for an extra $100 million to fight the hunger crisis in Somalia, and an extra $126 million for the crisis in Yemen. And then read this: the WHO’s General Director Margaret Chen spent $370.000 on travel expenses last year. She is known to have spent nights in hotel rooms that cost over €900 per night (approx. $1000). During the Ebola crisis team leader, Bruce Aylward flew by helicopter instead of travelling by Jeep, extra costs; $400.000.

Dr Ashish Jha, the director of the Global Health Institute at Harvard University, responded by stating: “If WHO is not being as lean as possible, it’s going to be hard to remain credible when they make their next funding appeal.”

But the WHO is already working hard on controlling its employees. Last February, they told their employees they were not allowed to fly first class anymore. They now would have to settle for business-class. Note: even business-class travelling is prohibited by most of the international NGO’s.