The WHO needs to go

The World Health Organization is a large and antiquated United Nations body that is expensive unnecessary and counterproductive to its own cause of “public health.” It’s time to take the appropriate measures and defund it.

The WHO and Ebola: an Illustration of Failure

As the Ebola crisis was ravaging a number of African countries in 2014, we put our trust into a number of international organizations to assist West African countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea or Nigeria to contain the spread of the virus and aid those who were unable to receive medical care. The World Health Organization (WHO), with its ambitious goal regarding public health, was one of them. According to itself, the “WHO aims to prevent Ebola outbreaks by maintaining surveillance for Ebola virus disease and supporting at-risk countries to developed preparedness plans.”

Experts in the field, however, beg to differ. As Reuters reported in 2015, a specialist panel convened by Harvard’s Global Health Institute (HGHI) and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) concluded that immense human suffering went “largely unchecked” by institutional responders.

It turned out that WHO officials were aware of the outbreak in spring, yet it took until August for the World Health Organization to declare it a public health emergency and take action. This is months after the broader public was already made aware of the problems with the epidemic.

The WHO, however, does have priorities—in the same year that WHO reports failed to mention the Ebola outbreak, the UN’s agency reported on the promotion of tobacco products. Even more striking is that the WHO’s concern wasn’t only that of tobacco marketing in Western European of Northern American areas but in the precise areas affected by Ebola. Here is a quote from that report:

In Guinea, attractive young women are hired by tobacco companies as marketing executives, but in reality serve as so-called “cigarette girls” whose duty is to promote cigarettes at nightclubs, in front of retail shops and in other public places.”

Over 2,500 people died from Ebola in Guinea, but rather than addressing the important health concerns of what could become a global epidemic, the WHO focused on cigarettes. Former WHO Director General Margaret Chan spoke at the sixth Conference of the Parties of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC COP6) in Moscow in 2014 (during the Ebola outbreak) and declared fighting smoking as the biggest priority for the WHO.

This is in line with the general priorities of this organization. The WHO has shifted its focus from communicable diseases to non-communicable diseases (NCDs), caused by fatty foods, smoking, or drinking. Unimpressed by the large-scale consequences of nation-wide epidemics, the WHO prefers to play a nanny and regulates people’s personal behavior. Is this what taxpayers expect to happen?

Stunning Waste of Taxpayers’ Money

The WHO’s travel expenses for one year are $200 million according to the Washington Post, which means that every single staffer racks up a total of $28,500 per year. Because surely, when you’re fighting smoking instead of Ebola, better do it in a business-class seat.

For those thinking that the latter statement would go too far, let’s just take a look at the Coral Strand hotel on the Seychelles, whichhosted international tobacco control experts from South Africa, Mauritius, Kenya, Uganda, and Liberia in order to learn about the Seychelles’s “comprehensive tobacco control laws” which, as you’ll find the government admitting, are only in the “process of being enforced.” At around $300 per night, the hotel offers nice rooms, including offsite water sports, badminton lawns, and an ocean deck bar for all the thirsty health experts.

In March of 2017, the Associated Press reported that the World Health Organization spent more for the travel of 7,000 staffers than it did for countering malaria, tuberculosis, fighting AIDS and hepatitis, and on tackling mental health and substance abuse. The agency is simultaneously demanding its budget be increased as it doesn’t seem to have enough money to fulfill its healthcare-providing role.

Adding to that, the reader of the current article, which has an increased likelihood of being an American taxpayer, is asked to contribute the largest part to the WHO’s over $4 billion budget.

Charity Does It Better

Compare this to Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders), which is almost entirely funded privately and widely regarded as being more effective in the fight against Ebola through a large-scale operation involving many volunteers and researchers. MSF’s transportation costs are$195,000, which largely overshadows the $560,000 spent on Africa alone (adding $60,000 for the Americas, $4,800 for Oceania, $60,000 on Europe and $364,000 in Asia).

This performance is visible when it comes to operating costs.

In The Costs of Public Income Redistribution and Private Charity (Journal of Libertarian Studies, Volume 21, NO. 2 [Summer 2007]: 3–20), Joseph Rolph Edwards points towards the numerical evidence of the undeniable over-performance of private charity. He notes that government absorbs at least two-thirds of the money it raised, meaning that for an aid of $200 million, it would need to raise $600 million.

“Assuming that private charities (and private family aid) deliver at least two-thirds of each dollar donated to them in aid, they would only need to raise $300 billion in order to deliver that $200 billion in aid. That is, raising only half as much money through voluntary donations, the private agencies (and families) could deliver the same amount as the government, saving, in the process, all the costs the government imposes on the public through the compulsory taxation.”

This estimate of at least two-thirds did not even include religious charities, who often lower their operating costs through the fact that they work on land that was donated to them.

It turns out that advocates of help for people in distress should turn to charities, not government. Organizations such as MSF show that the motivations of individuals who believe in their cause are far more effective than drowning resources in the ineffectiveness of bureaucracy.

In the debate around the necessity of certain international organizations, we should not look at pretended intentions, but the manifested results. As Milton Friedman rightfully said, “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.”

Looking at the results of the WHO concludes one thing: it needs to go.


This article was co-authored with Fred Roeder. The original piece was published by the Foundation for Economic Education.

Pictures are Creative Commons.

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About Bill Wirtz

My name is Bill, I'm from Luxembourg and I write about the virtues of a free society. I favour individual and economic freedom and I believe in the capabilities people can develop when they have to take their own responsibilities.

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