The Legitimacy of International Organizations

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International organizations and the crisis of legitimacy

International organizations like the United Nations, Interpol, Transparency International play significant roles in solving many global problems such as poverty, conflict and wars, corruption and healthcare. However, they face the question of legitimacy. One legitimacy issue is that they spend a lot of money on overhead costs such as travel and accommodation. Instead, they should have used part of that money on specific programs that further address the social problems. Another issue is the credibility of the individuals elected to lead these organizations. They may suffer from a conflict of interest in particular matters that compromises the goals and effective response of these international organizations (Fowler, 2013). The crisis of legitimacy is significant so that these international organizations can be better managed to enhance their capacity in tackling social problems. Let’s use the example of the World Health Organization (WHO) to take a look at the legitimacy issue of cutting down on unnecessary overhead costs to spend more on community-based programs that help address these global problems.

History of the World Health Organization

It was set up on 7 April 1948 under the United Nations. The date is significant every year as people internationally celebrate World Health Day. Its headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland with 150 country offices located in six different regions. WHO focus is on global public health by directing and coordinating international health work. The specialized health agency has more than 190-member states with all UN member states eligible for membership (WHO, 2015).

WHO core priority and strategies

WHO core priority is achieving universal health coverage. Some of its strategies include working in partnerships with various stakeholders such as other specialized health agencies, governmental health administrations, civil society groups, policy-makers, the private sector, academia with the aim of creating and executing solid national health plans. WHO assists countries to offer safe and affordable health care to its people. It provides effective health systems that help treat and prevent non-communicable diseases such as stroke, diabetes, mental illness, cancer, heart diseases which account for significant deaths worldwide. It also assists in implementing health programs vital in the treatment of infectious diseases such as Tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and Malaria. WHO has also played an essential role in emergency health situations providing financial and technical support to boost countries’ response to health hazards (WHO, 2015).

Global issues addressed by the WHO

WHO has been instrumental in helping solve various global health issues. A significant achievement of WHO was the eradication of the dreaded smallpox disease through a concerted international immunization campaign. Between 1990 and 2016, it has helped reduce the child mortality rate under the age of five by 6 million. WHO also is responding to humanitarian crisis and disease outbreaks present in over 40 countries. For example, in 2018, WHO in collaboration with UNICEF worked together in Yemen, which suffers from wars, to vaccinate over 300,000 people against cholera. Currently, WHO has shifted a lot of focus on non-communicable diseases which are responsible for 70% of deaths by engaging in health campaigns. These campaigns promote healthy living through regular physical exercises, healthy diet, and frequent medical checks to reduce and prevent these deaths (Hogan, Stevens, Hosseinpoor & Boerma, 2018).

WHO and Crisis of Legitimacy

One legitimacy issue WHO faces is the money they spend annually on overhead costs. The health agency spends more money on travel and accommodation than on AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined. These diseases pose significant threats to global public health. For example, in 2016, WHO spent about $201 million on travel and accommodation expenses for their over 7000 employees. In the same year, $71 million was spent on combating AIDS and hepatitis, $61 million on fighting malaria, $59 million on fighting tuberculosis. The total comes to about $191 million which falls about $10 million short on the travel and accommodation costs. These diseases affect hundreds of millions of people globally, for example, in 2016, WHO reported over 200 million malaria cases with over 500,000 deaths. These statistics put into perspective WHO spending and shows the disconnect between their travel and disease budgets (Hogan et al., 2018).

Staffers in the health agency have been alleged to book business class airplane tickets and target accommodation in five-star hotels. For example, WHO director-general Dr. Margaret Chan recently traveled to Guinea to celebrate the world’s first Ebola vaccine. She spent at an exclusive presidential suite hotel that costs $1,008 per night. She is also frequently booked on first-class airplane tickets.

Such luxurious expenditures are unwarranted especially when you consider the plight of millions of people suffering from these public health hazards. Additionally, donors will be discouraged to pledge their funds due to some of the wastage the agency incurs. WHO could cut its travel budget by half like by enforcing strict travel regulations to allow only essential travel by its staffers and using modest travel and accommodation. The significant money saved can be channeled into increasing the public health programs in the vulnerable communities worldwide (Brewster, Boselie & Purpura, 2018).

In conclusion

International organizations need to ensure the proper management of funds to improve their credibility in tackling global problems.


Brewster, C., Boselie, P., & Purpura, C. (2018). HRM in the International Organizations. In HRM in Mission Driven Organizations (pp. 79-114). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham

  Fowler, A. (2013). Striking a balance: A guide to enhancing the effectiveness of non-governmental organisations       in international development. Routledge.

Hogan, D. R., Stevens, G. A., Hosseinpoor, A. R., & Boerma, T. (2018). Monitoring universal health coverage within the Sustainable Development Goals: development and baseline data for an index of essential health services. The Lancet Global Health, 6(2), e152-e168.

 World Health Organization. (2015). WHO global strategy on people-centred and integrated health services: interim report.

November 13, 2023


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