Faults found with WHO's PPE procurement

7 June 2021

An audit of the World Health Organization (WHO)’s purchasing of PPE and supplies has criticised a lack of transparency around procurement, conflicts of interest, and cases of fraud and sexual misconduct.

The WHO sourced PPE worth $866.72m in 2020 but often failed to maintain transparency around purchasing arrangements, the audit found.

Krishna Subramaniam, director of external audit at the WHO, said: “We noticed [a] problem in technical evaluation and quality assurance, and issues related to pricing and payment.”

In early 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic the WHO did not have clear technical specifications for PPE – despite experience of previous outbreaks like Ebola showing its importance.

Procurement of Covid-19 testing kits suffered from a lack of objectivity when it came to evaluating suppliers.

The procurement system suffered from inadequate documentation and lack of supplier performance evaluation, the audit said.

The $2.53m contracting of a consultancy firm to assist the WHO in procurement of PPE was carried out without due approval – though this was given four months after the contract was signed.

The firm’s role in procurement constituted a conflict of interest as it worked for both the WHO and a supplier, the audit found. 

“There was an increasing trend of cases of misconduct, especially relating to fraud, harassment, non-compliance to professional standards and sexual misconduct,” the audit added.

“There were delays in investigation and taking disciplinary action in cases where allegations were substantiated.”

In March 2020, the WHO did not have readily available long-term agreements for PPE that would have enabled it to place immediate orders to vendors.

It did have three long-term agreements for PPE in 2019, but initially said suppliers pulled out of these agreements because of price increases.

However it later added that this was due to “a lack of availability and a lack of access due to state intervention, and not because of an increase in price.”

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