A recent independent financial audit of the World Health Organization (WHO) has revealed “an increasing trend of cases of misconduct, especially relating to fraud, harassment, non-compliance to professional standards and sexual misconduct.” In light of the audit, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the world’s largest provider of HIV/AIDS care globally, reiterates its earlier call for United Nations (UN) Member States not to re-appoint WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to a second term once his appointment concludes at the end of 2021.
The Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India conducted the WHO audit for the 2020 financial year. It revealed that WHO signed consultancy contracts totaling $332.79 million. Among the numerous financial irregularities documented in the audit, the auditor cited an instance where the WHO bypassed its financial procedures and altered tender evaluation criteria, allowing it to award a $2.5 million contract to a less qualified consultancy firm.
According to the audit, the consulting firm which received the tender was engaged to assist the WHO with purchasing personal protective equipment (PPE). The auditor concluded that this constituted a conflict of interest, because the firm also provided assistance to the PPE supplier.
The audit findings underscore ongoing governance challenges within the WHO and a lack of transparency in its operations.
“We are astounded by the findings of the WHO audit. Financial malfeasance involving millions of taxpayer dollars is egregious enough, but when it’s happening in the middle of a pandemic, when millions of people are dying because they can’t get a vaccine, it’s nothing short of an outrage,” said AHF President Michael Weinstein. “This happened on Dr. Tedros’ watch—while he was pleading with Member States for more funding. What little credibility remained with the WHO leadership following disastrous missteps in handling COVID-19 has now gone out the window with this scathing audit and millions of dollars in useless consulting contracts. Without a doubt, WHO needs a new trustworthy leader.”
Other key findings highlighted by the auditor included deficiencies in the quality assurance and technical evaluation of PPE procured on an emergency basis, a lack of bid objectivity in the procurement of COVID-19 test kits, inadequate procurement documentation, and a lack of supplier performance evaluation, among other issues.
Historically, WHO has repeatedly blamed the lack of sustained funding from Member States as one of the key factors that precludes it from rapidly and adequately responding to outbreaks such as COVID-19. The misuse of existing funds will likely deal a further blow to WHO’s efforts to convince Member States to give it more money. At a time when wealth inequality among countries has drawn a stark line between vaccine haves and have-nots, the cost of this debacle will be tragically measured in lives lost to COVID-19. To restore credibility in the eyes of the donors and the world, WHO must appoint a new Director-General.
AHF has issued recent statements titled “Six Reasons Why WHO Chief Should Go” and “Ten Ways WHO Catastrophically Failed the World,” which outline additional arguments for not re-appointing Dr. Tedros to a second term as WHO Director-General.