WHO slashes budget by $ 1 b, jobs in new era of austerity

Saturday, 21 May 2011 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Reuters: The World Health Organization slashed its budget by nearly $ 1 billion Thursday and cut 300 jobs at the UN agency’s headquarters, because of financial constraints in donor countries, WHO officials said.

The decision, taken by health ministers at the WHO annual meeting, follows a call by member states for a more “realistic” budget after a $ 300 million shortfall last year.

But its partnerships with the private sector and foundations that provide a growing share of voluntary contributions have led activists to fear the WHO’s independence could be compromised.

Member states Thursday set the WHO budget for the next two years at $ 3.96 billion, about 20 per cent less than the $ 4.8 billion first sought by management, officials said. The figure is expected to be formally adopted in the coming days.

“We’re going to spend less money on administration and management, so there is a clear cut in that,” Elil Renganathan, Director of Planning, told a news briefing.

Travel, publications and staff will be cut at the WHO Geneva headquarters, which employs 2,400 people. “The general feeling was we need to move toward a more realistic budget,” he said.

The WHO led the fight against the 2009-2010 swine flu pandemic. Its core work is to coordinate global programs to tackle diseases from malaria to polio and diabetes.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, in a speech to the 193 member states Monday, said the agency was embarking on the most extensive administrative and financial reforms, especially financial accountability, in its 63-year history.

A report this week by independent experts into its handling of the pandemic exonerated the WHO, she said, rejecting claims it helped the drug industry make profits by exaggerating the threat.

Era of austerity

“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,” Chan said.

Member states led by the United States provide a quarter of the WHO’s budget through their assessed contributions.

The rest comes from voluntary donations by members, as well as the private sector and foundations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and Rotary Club.

US Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters on Tuesday: “The absence of influence by industry groups or political pressure is really critical to making sure that the organisation is regarded not only as an effective world leader, but as a transparent organisation.”

Some 100 campaign groups, including Corporate Accountability International, delivered a letter to Chan Wednesday urging her to address widespread concerns about conflicts of interest regarding global water governance, health and nutrition policy.

Separately, Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World) staged a demonstration outside the talks Thursday to demand health access for all, under the banner “Health is not a luxury.”

The group says the economic crisis has left health budgets at risk and increased inequality, so that poor people in developed countries struggle to pay for health insurance.

It estimates 1.3 billion people, one fifth of the world’s population, have no access to basic health care.

Health Minister informs WHO of northern health facilities’ restoration

The Government would never marginalise the Tamil people who contributed enormously to strengthen the economy, said Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena, addressing the 64th World Assembly of the World Health Organization held in Geneva, Switzerland recently.

The Minister asserted that the Northern Province healthcare system would be uplifted, adding that the Sri Lankan Government had commenced rebuilding the conflict-affected Northern Province.

“The Health Ministry has taken measures to set up 75 new healthcare institutions in the region and appoint healthcare personnel such as nurses, paramedics, laboratory technicians and doctors, including specialists,” he revealed.

Minister Sirisena pointed out that the Sri Lankan Government admired the leadership provided by the WHO in enhancing the global healthcare services and recognised the services especially of Dr. Margaret Chan, the Director General and Regional Director of the South East Asia region.

Of late, healthcare systems around the globe have been challenged by natural calamities, climatic changes and as a result several diseases have begun to emerge. Non-communicable diseases have been found to be increasing, posing a serious threat to the health of the people, he said.

The WHO has shouldered the heavy responsibility of promoting and maintaining excellent healthcare systems throughout the world by assisting to improve primary healthcare.

The Health Minister outlined that the principal aim of the Government was to create a healthier nation that could contribute to its economic, social, mental and spiritual development. Sri Lanka had achieved phenomenal progress in providing universal healthcare facilities.

He said the Government had taken steps to promote healthy lifestyles among people by reducing the prevalence of common risk factors.

The Minister emphasised that the Government of Sri Lanka had initiated the process of revising the National Drug Policy and planned to implement it through the National Drug Regulatory Authority. He said that it had also taken measures to promote rational drug prescribing, regulating prices of drugs and ensuring the safety, efficacy and availability of drugs used in the country.

“The Sri Lankan Government recently took an important decision to enhance production capacity of the pharmaceuticals by encouraging the private sector to engage in private-public partnerships,” he said.