The World Health Organization is reeling after an internal audit discovered that reported incidents of fraud, corruption, harassment, failure to comply with professional standards and sexual harassment skyrocketed in 2015.
According to the audit, which was released by the United Nation’s Office of Internal Oversight Services, “2015 saw an increase of 66 percent in the demands for investigation of suspected wrongdoing.” Reported incidents of fraud were up 20 percent over the previous year. Harassment claims increased 30 percent, cases of sexual harassment doubled and instances of fraud shot up 166 percent in 2015.
In total, 83 cases of wrongdoing were reported by WHO employees and watchdogs.
At last week’s World Health Assembly meeting in Geneva, health officials from around the world chastised the UN’s public health arm for creating an environment where serious violations are allowed to occur.
“This undermines the credibility of the organization,” said a public health official speaking on behalf of Thailand’s government, “We urge the WHO to truly have zero tolerance for [wrongdoing].”
The American delegation expressed “concern about the significant increase in reports of suspected wrongdoing” and urged the WHO to “address the high number of reports of fraud, harassment and failure to comply with professional standards.”
In one circumstance, the audit reports that a field security officer at an unnamed country office “was intoxicated, and insulted and assaulted his fiancée at a hotel in September 2015.” Another investigation recounts an episode where an employee working at the WHO headquarters in Geneva was sexually harassed by her supervisor “through behavior, text messages and words, on several occasions and in various locations.”
When asked if Dr. Margaret Chan, the WHO’s Director-General, would be made available to comment, Tarik Jašarević, the WHO official in charge of media relations for the World Health Assembly, laughed, then replied “no way.”
Chan, he said, “will not be talking to the media.”
Auditors also determined that a high-ranking WHO representative “arranged for the son of a friend to be on WHO premises, ostensibly as an intern,” even after being instructed that the teenager was too young and lacked requisite experience to become a WHO intern. That same representative also misused the organization’s resources by using a WHO vehicle for personal purposes, demanding that staff members make personal flight and hotel reservations, and trying to force through the hiring of a personal friend for a WHO position even though the friend had no qualifications for the job.
In another instance, an official at an unnamed regional WHO office bypassed established procedures to improperly purchase $2.1 million of equipment from a friend, even though the equipment was available for much less through other vendors.
The audit “makes for uncomfortable reading,” a representative of the United Kingdom told the meeting of delegates from more than 185 countries. Germany’s delegation argued the troubling audit findings “seem to provide the message that the speed of cultural change [at the WHO] is not adequate.”
The WHO is funded by world taxpayers through contributions of public money given by countries around the world. American taxpayers spent about $305 million to fund the intergovernmental health agency in 2015.