The World Health Organisation (WHO) needs to be revamped, Director-General Margaret Chan said this week, as a drop in voluntary contributions by member states has burned a hole in the body’s finances.
“Reform is essential. And WHO is now embarking on the most extensive administrative, managerial and financial reforms, especially financial accountability,” Chan told delegates as the UN agency kicked off its 64th assembly in Geneva.
“When WHO was dealing mainly with germs, hygiene, medicines, vaccines and sister sectors, like water supply and sanitation, our job was much more straightforward,” she said.
“But that job has changed, gradually over time and then dramatically within the past decade. I see a WHO that pursues excellence, an organisation that is effective, efficient, responsive, objective, transparent and accountable.”
Dozens of health ministers and more than 1,800 delegates representing the 193-member body, part of the United Nations, gathered at the meeting that ends on May 24.
The WHO has previously said it expects a US$300-million deficit this year due to plunging voluntary contributions. Most of the organisation’s financing needs depend on such payments.
The WHO subsequently cut its bi-annual budget for 2012-2013 by about $1 billion and is expected to lay off 300 workers, about 12 percent of its workforce in Geneva.
“These are difficult times and the challenges keep getting more and more complex,” Chan said, noting that she was “most especially” referring to the 2008 financial crisis.
“At WHO, we have been advised by external experts to accept the financial crisis, not as a temporary disruption to be managed with temporary measures, but as the start of a new and enduring era of economic austerity,” she added.
“We have accepted this advice.”
She explained the cost-saving measures introduced after the crisis hit have forced cut backs in the organisation’s “traditional areas of work,” and were made with “deep regret.”
But, she made clear, the organisation is “most definitely not bankrupt.”
Despite the ongoing financial pressures she said the international community cannot afford to neglect health spending.
“We cannot allow the loss of essential medicines, essential cures for many millions of people, to become the next global crisis,” she said.
Swiss non-governmental organization Berne Declaration said: “To carry out its mission well, the WHO needs flexible and predictable financing.”