October 25, 2021

The head of the WHO apologized for the sexual exploitation of Ebola workers in DR Congo.

The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Azanom Gabrias, called the agency a “dark day” on Tuesday after an embarrassing report on allegations of rape and sexual abuse by workers sent to fight Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Sorry about that.

The report found “obvious structural failure” and “individual negligence” on the part of UN agency staff when dozens of women told investigators that they had been offered a job in exchange for sex, or that they had been abused.

“The first thing I want to say to the victims … I’m sorry,” Tedros told a news conference.

“It is my first priority that criminals are not forgiven but accounted for,” he said.

WHO Health Workers
After an outbreak in the region in August 2018, health workers arrived in eastern DR Congo to help fight Ebola.

The report focuses on allegations against local and international personnel deployed in the country to fight the Ebola epidemic from 2018 to 2020.

Tedros said two senior staff members have already been placed on administrative leave.

“We are taking steps to ensure that those who may be involved are temporarily relieved of their decision-making role in allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse,” he said.

“At WHO, we are really disappointed, scared and heartbroken by the results of this inquiry,” Matshediso Moti, WHO’s Africa director, told a news conference.

World Health Organization
WHO local and international officials abuse to fight 2018-20 Ebola outbreak Photo: AFP / Fabrice Cofferny

The 35-page report paints a grim picture, noting the scale of incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse in response to the “10th Ebola outbreak, all in the growing vulnerability of ‘alleged victims’. Played a key role in not providing the necessary equipment. Help and support is needed for such shoddy experiments. “

The special commission identified 83 suspects, including 21 WHO employees.

“The four agreements have expired and there is a future ban on employment at the WHO, and we will inform the wider UN system,” Tedros said.

He added that the agency would also hand over allegations of rape to Congolese authorities and other concerned states.

The report, which Tedros described as “disturbing reading”, referred to “individual negligence which amounts to professional misconduct.”

He also said he had found “obvious structural failures and unpreparedness in the poor Central African country” to handle the risks of sexual exploitation and abuse.

Following media reports in May that the WHO administration was aware of the alleged cases in DR Congo and did not take action, 53 countries jointly demanded that the WHO stop sexual exploitation. Show “strong and ideal leadership”.

The allegations would not have surfaced had it not been for the disclosure of documents by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and The New Humanitarian in September last year about alleged exploitation and abuse of women by international staff during the 2018-20 Ebola crisis. ۔

Their investigation found that 51 women had accused Ebola aid workers – primarily of sexual exploitation – by the WHO but also by other UN agencies and leading NGOs. , Including proposing to them, forcing them to have sex in exchange for a job or terminating a contract, they refused

With more than 2,200 recorded deaths, the epidemic hit DR Congo the hardest since the disease was first identified in 1976.

“The organization, primarily focused on eradicating the Ebola epidemic, was not fully prepared to deal with the threats / incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse,” the report said Tuesday.

It added that the WHO leadership was fully aware of the rape allegations six weeks ago, as it had initially claimed.

Citing an e-mail to a WHO ethics expert, he said: “The message was fairly clear and indeed the incidents of sexual abuse and abuse with WHO staff during the response to the 10th Ebola outbreak. Was the first report. “

The WHO was “aware of these events in early May 2019 and not in mid-June 2019”.

Asked if he intends to resign, Tedros, 56, who will seek a second term as head of the powerful UN agency in Geneva, admitted he did not raise the issue. Has visited the country 14 times.

“Maybe I should have asked questions,” he said.

Copyright AFP All rights reserved.

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