“Shame on WHO:” Victim of sexual misconduct against UN response

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — A woman victimized by a World Health Organization doctor during a recent Ebola outbreak in Congo said she was shocked that no senior official has been punished for allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation she they involve dozens of women in the conflict-stricken country.

On Monday, the AP reported a confidential United Nations report apologizing to senior staff members for their mishandling of the case due to a “loophole” in how WHO defines victims of such behavior.

Anifa, a young Congolese woman who worked at an Ebola treatment center in Beni during the outbreak, said she could not understand the apparent justification for WHO’s misconduct.

“It’s a shame WHO employs types of men who don’t respect women,” she said, refusing to share her full name, out of fear it could hurt her future job prospects. She anifa said she was offered a job by a WHO doctor in exchange for sex during the Ebola outbreak, but she declined. The AP does not identify victims of sexual abuse.

“Perhaps the WHO does not consider us because we are African?” she asked. “As long as I’m alive, I will hate the entire World Health Organization until (the perpetrators) are charged and punished.”

Paula Donovan, co-leader of the Code Blue campaign, which seeks to hold the United Nations accountable for sex crimes, said WHO member countries have looked the other way on the agency’s allegations of sexual misconduct because they don’t they could afford to undermine the institution during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Countries couldn’t follow WHO because it was doing what the US and other rich countries wouldn’t do during COVID, which is trying to figure out how to get vaccines to the poor.”

He said donor countries have likely made an ominous calculation about the costs of responding to global health crises.

“It’s very depressing, but officials have essentially concluded that this is the price to pay, that some women will be sexually exploited.”

The UN report focused on a case first reported by the PA in May 2021, involving Dr Jean-Paul Ngandu, who worked on the Ebola response in northeastern Congo in 2019. Shortly thereafter upon his arrival, Ngandu met a young woman at a local restaurant. The two had sex later that evening, but the relationship soured and the woman and her aunt complained to the WHO that Ngandu had made her pregnant.

AP obtained a copy of a notarized agreement between Ngandu and the woman, signed by two WHO staffers, in which they agreed to cover her health care costs and buy her land.

After concerns about the Ngandu case were raised at WHO headquarters in Geneva, “the decision was made not to investigate the complaint on the basis that it did not violate WHO policy (sexual exploitation and abuse).” says the UN report. The report said this was because the woman was not a WHO “beneficiary”, meaning she did not receive any emergency or humanitarian aid and, therefore, did not qualify as a victim under WHO policy. ‘WHO.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has repeatedly said he is “outraged” by reports of sexual misconduct. But to date, no senior staff member linked to allegations of sexual abuse in the 2018-2020 Ebola outbreak in Congo – where more than 80 workers under WHO direction were found to have abused or exploited women – have been fired.

Some global health experts weren’t convinced by Tedros’s claimed outrage.

“The fact that no one has lost their job over this undermines the complete integrity of WHO,” said Sophie Harman, professor of international politics at Queen Mary University of London. “If WHO takes gender equality seriously, then it’s time for Tedros to go.”

WHO’s director of communications insisted the agency was committed to addressing sexual misconduct.

“WHO is focused on continuing to broadly strengthen our policies and practices, staffing, training and resources to prevent sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment,” said Gabriella Stern.

After the allegations in Congo became public, WHO created a new department to tackle sexual exploitation, led by Dr Gaya Gamhewage. In her interview with UN investigators, Gamhewage said that prior to being named she was unaware of WHO’s sexual misconduct policies and she had not even read them.


Cheng reported from London. Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed to this report.

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