TWN Info Service on Health Issues (Dec15/02)
9 December 2015
Third World Network

WHO: Unease over seconded philanthropic foundation staff to top management

Geneva, 9 December (TWN) – Philanthropic foundations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Nations Foundation have seconded their staffers to top management positions at the World Health Organization.

A UN Foundation staffer was placed in the office of the Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan as senior strategist (D1 level) for a 24-month contract this year.  One Gates Foundation staffer is seconded at P5 level as manager of program operations and cluster management at the Polio and Emergencies Cluster.

[Despite its name the UN Foundation is not a UN body but a charity registered in the United States. It was set up in 1998 by media mogul Ted Turner who in September 1997 had announced his intention to make a US$1 billion gift in support of the UN and its causes with ten annual donations valued at US$100 million each. However, this was not in cash but in 18 million shares of Time Warner stock, which in September 1997 had a value of US$1 billion.

The value of Time Warner shares decreased dramatically as a result of the merger of AOL and Time Warner in January 2000 and the burst of the “dot-com bubble” on the US stock markets.  In order to keep Turner’s US$1 billion promise, without increasing the number of 18 million shares, the UN Foundation started to raise additional resources from other donors.

Currently, a large share of the UN Foundation’s revenues from other donors comes from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Between 1999 and 2014 Gates Foundation gave US$231 million in grants to the UN Foundation, mainly for projects in the areas of health and agriculture.

Source: “Fit for Whose Purpose? – Private funding and Corporate Influence in the United Nations” by Barbara Adams and Jens Martens]

This information revealed to Member States during the ongoing negotiations of the Framework for Engagement with non-State Actors (FENSA) shows that between 2012 and 2015, WHO had 37 secondments from non-State actors (NSA).  These 37 secondments are from academic institutions, philanthropic foundations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The data does not reveal any direct secondments from the private sector.

A non-paper released by the WHO Secretariat for the resumed Open-ended Intergovernmental Meeting on FENSA (7-9 December) explains the secondment as follows:“A ‘Secondment’ to WHO is the assignment to WHO of an individual already employed by an entity, for a fixed period, under a tri-partite secondment agreement concluded by WHO, the releasing entity and the employee. Secondees return to the releasing entity at the end of their secondment. While on secondment, secondees are WHO staff members, subject to WHO staff rules and regulations, except as otherwise agreed in the secondment agreement. Secondees are subject to WHO's declarations of interest for staff. The acceptance of a secondment from a non-State actor would be covered by the Framework of engagement with non-State actor”. (

Foundations identified as “philanthropic” that seconded their staff to WHO (2012-2015) are: CDC Foundation (USA), Fiocruz Foundation (Brazil), Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (USA), Korea Foundation for International Healthcare (Republic of Korea), IMPACT Foundation (the UK), Thai Health Promotion Foundation (Thailand), Wellcome Trust (the UK) and UN Foundation (USA). 

However, four of these are essentially public institutions: CDC Foundation was established by an Act of the US Congress, Fiocruz Foundation is under the Brazilian Ministry of Health, and the Thai Health Promotion Foundation is an autonomous state agency established under Thai law. The Korea Foundation for International Healthcare is a public agency under the Ministry of Health and Welfare of the Republic of Korea.

Removing these four foundations from the list means that four private philanthropic foundations from two developed countries (USA and the UK) are seconding staffer to the WHO viz. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, IMPACT Foundation, Wellcome Trust and the UN Foundation. 

According to an observer, the secondmentfrom the UN Foundation is in effect a Gates Foundation secondment. As noted above, Gates Foundation is a major funder of the UN Foundation.

The Gates Foundation’s connection to the secondment does not end there. Another secondment from an NGO, Management Sciences for Health (USA) to the Stop TB Partnership Secretariat at P6 level for 7 months in 2014 lists Gates Foundation as one of their donors ( This NGO also has at least two corporate donors viz. Pfizer Inc. and Shell Petroleum.

This shows that three top-level secondments (P5, P6 and D1) have Gates Foundation connections.

The secondment to the polio cluster clearly shows that Gates Foundation is not only a financier but is also in charge of the implementation of WHO’s polio eradication initiative.  According to WHO’s Program and Budget portal as on 30th September 2015, in the current biennium 67.9% of US$449.25 million goes for polio eradication. 

These secondments also raise concerns related to the risk of engagement identified in Paragraph 8 of the draft FENSA.  Some of the risks in the paragraph that are relevant in this context are: conflict of interest; undue or improper influence exercised by a non-State actor on WHO’s work; the engagement conferring an endorsement of the non-State actor’s name, brand, product views or activity.

According to the Secretariat, the secondments are subject to the declaration of interest for staff. However, the scope of this declaration of interest is limited to the individual staff and does not take into account the institution from which the person comes. This also brings out the lack of a comprehensive conflict of interest policy in the WHO covering both individual and institutional conflict of interest.

Other NGOs that had seconded their staff to WHO are: American Leprosy Missions (USA), Save the Children (UK), three positions and International Medical Corps (USA) two positions. In 2015 there is no fresh secondment from NGOs.

Academic institutions that seconded their staff to WHO are: Royal Veterinary College (UK), Hokkaido University (Japan), Yonsei University (Republic of Korea), Niigata University (Japan), Chiba University (Japan), University of Kanazawa (Japan), Department of Infectious Disease and Rheumatology Rigshospitalet (Denmark) and Oslo University (Norway).

There has been little transparency with regard to secondments to the WHO. This is the first time the WHO Secretariat is sharing with Member States a list of secondments from NSAs.

During the negotiations, developing countries proposed a complete ban on secondments from NSAs. However, on 7December as a compromise developing countries proposed secondments only from academic institutions. This was opposed by Germany and Switzerland. At that stage developing countries especially Brazil asked for detailed information about secondments from NSAs.

Earlier in May 2015 during the World Health Assembly the Secretariat provided vague information about secondments from NSAs. Member States were told that there are seven secondments currently in WHO without giving the details of the secondments such as the name of the NSAs, department etc. Out of these seven secondments, Member States were told, four are from academic institutions, one from a philanthropic foundation posted in the WHO headquarters, another 2 posted in regional offices, 1 from NGO and 1 from a philanthropic foundation. However, the information presented yesterday shows that there are 9 NSAs currently seconding their staff to the WHO: 5 from academic institutions and 4 from the philanthropic foundations.

According to sources, Germany and Switzerland are opposing the prohibition of secondment from NSAs. In a draft framework presented to the 136th Executive Board the Secretariat proposed a ban on secondments from NSAs.  However, on the evening of 8 December, Germany and Switzerland changed their position and stated that they can accept prohibition of secondments from the private sector but need secondments from other NSAs viz. academic institutions, NGOs and philanthropic foundations. Du

At the evening session on 8December, after the Secretariat provided information on secondments over the last four years, discussion was fully focussed on secondment. Third World Network learned that the Chair has proposed a way forward by suggesting criteria on secondment instead of a complete prohibition on secondment. Some of these criteria are: No secondment to the top management level; equitable geographical distribution of secondment etc.

According to an observer these criteria are inadequate to prevent the undue influence of NSAs, especially those with private corporate links.