WHO Feels the Cash Crunch

January 20, 2011 Updated: October 1, 2015

The Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Margaret Chan speaks during a press conference to present the 'The World Health Report 2010' at the German health ministry in Berlin on November 22, 2010. More than 100 million people are plunged into poverty every year by illness or 'catastrophic' medical bills, the WHO said, launching a global drive for universal health care. (Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images)
The Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Margaret Chan speaks during a press conference to present the 'The World Health Report 2010' at the German health ministry in Berlin on November 22, 2010. More than 100 million people are plunged into poverty every year by illness or 'catastrophic' medical bills, the WHO said, launching a global drive for universal health care. (Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images)
The World Health Organization has reached its financial limit in the global fight against disease and disasters, WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan told the organization’s executive board this week.

WHO’s chief said that the global organization is “over-extended” and is facing a serious funding shortfall.

“WHO has a packed agenda. This organization is over-extended. We are currently asked to do more and more. This has a limit. We are there,” said Chan at the opening of the executive board meeting in Geneva that runs Jan. 17-25. The transcript is available on the WHO on the DG’s website.

Chan mentioned recent successes of the health organization, like developing a meningitis vaccine in Africa, and reassured her colleagues that “public health has been on a winning streak,” but emphasized that the organization “is not functioning at the level of top performance that is increasingly needed, and expected.”

“[W]ill we still have the resources to maintain, if not accelerate, these gains? Many organizations in global health, like the Global Fund, the GAVI Alliance, and WHO itself, now face serious funding shortfalls,” she said.

Chan listed the litany of urgent health crises around the world that require funding and attention from the WHO. The organization is helping with relief efforts after floods in Australia, Brazil, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan; is working on antiretroviral therapy for AIDS; diagnostic tests and treatment for tuberculosis; and earthquake cleanup and cholera containment in Haiti.

Chan says she wants to see a change in the organization so that decisions about its involvement in particular health issues are not dictated by the size of the problem, but by the degree of impact WHO can make.

About 28 percent of WHO’s funding comes from assessed contributions from its 193 member states, which are calculated on a sliding scale. The rest of its budget, the bulk of it, comes from voluntary additional contributions from governments plus donations from health agencies and other partners. The organization’s 2006-2007 budget was $3.3 billion. The assessed U.S. contribution in 2010 was just over $109,400,000.

WHO’s role internationally is mainly monitoring and coordination. It helps direct global research priorities related to health issues, sets international standards, monitors world health trends, and offers technical support to countries.

Over the course of the meeting, executive board members will consider the future direction and priorities for the WHO including the organization’s financing.

“Any discussion of financing and budgeting needs to go hand-in-hand with a close look at the purpose and unique contribution of WHO,” Chan advised the board.