Western governments on Friday called for “full engagement” by the World Health Organization to prevent a repeat of rape and sexual abuse allegedly committed by its workers sent to fight Ebola in DR Congo.
Major donors the United States, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Canada and the European Union appealed after dozens of women told investigators that ‘they had been offered work in exchange for sex or had been raped.
“We expect full commitment from WHO to prevent and combat such acts, including through fundamental WHO reforms,” the governments said in a joint statement.
Member governments of the United Nations health agency have said that “we will ensure that the commitments of WHO leaders lead to accountability, increased capacity, action and rapid change”, calling for a “immediate, thorough and detailed assessment” of what went wrong.
The 35-page report released Tuesday by an independent commission of inquiry focused on accusations against local and international staff deployed to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to fight an Ebola outbreak from 2018 to 2020.
Calling it a “dark day for the WHO”, the head of the United Nations body, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told victims he was “sorry” and that it was “the top priority that the perpetrators do not are not excused but held to account “.
– Structural failures –
The report cites “individual negligence which may constitute professional misconduct”.
The authors also said they found “obvious structural failings and a lack of preparedness to manage the risks of incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse” in this poor Central African country.
Of the 83 suspects identified, 21 were employed by the WHO, although only four were working for the health agency when the report was released.
Four have had their contracts terminated and are barred from future employment at WHO, while two senior executives have been placed on administrative leave.
The agency will also pass the rape allegations on to Congolese authorities and those in other affected states, Tedros said.
The allegations would not have come to light without a year-long investigation revealed a year ago by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and The New Humanitarian, documenting allegations of exploitation and abuse of women by international staff during the crisis 2018-2020 Ebola.
The report says WHO management was aware of allegations of sexual abuse in May 2019, six weeks earlier than they initially claimed.
Asked about his intention to resign, Tedros, 56, and who will run for a second term at the head of the powerful UN agency based in Geneva, admitted to having visited the country 14 times without anyone raising the question.
“I probably should have asked questions,” he says.
With more than 2,200 recorded deaths, the Ebola outbreak was the worst to strike DR Congo since the disease was first identified in 1976.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and is posted from a syndicated feed.)