Investigation Committee Findings Revealed WHO’s Irresponsibility & Being too slow

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Reported on 26 May 2021

An Ebola transit center in Katwa, near Butembo, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo by: Baz Ratner

The World Health Organization’s investigation into sexual exploitation and abuse allegations during the 2018 Ebola outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo is moving at a slow pace, according to an oversight committee.

The Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee for WHO Health Emergencies Programme “expresses its concern about the slow progress of the fact-finding process, and we urge WHO to immediately implement preventive and responsive measures in areas that are potentially high  risk for sexual exploitation and abuse,” said Dr. Felicity Harvey, chair of the committee, during the 74th World Health Assembly meetings on Tuesday.

Abuse allegations: WHO said it was made aware of allegations last September, after which WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus set up a commission to investigate.

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But a recent report from the Associated Press found that senior WHO management were informed of the alleged misconduct in 2019 and asked how to handle it. The AP said that internal meetings revealed that the problems were systematic. The allegations focused around sexual misconduct from two doctors in the Ebola response, and included exchanging jobs for sex.

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WHO’s commission submitted its first and second reports to Tedros in January and this month. The commission’s work is expected to be completed by the end of August.

An October WHO mission to DRC resulted in recommendations for a system-wide strategy for preventing sexual exploitation and abuse, which has yet to be implemented. WHO has also deployed two prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse coordinators — one to DRC and the other to Ukraine, as well as set up a working group and unit focused on preventing exploitation and abuse.

Agency review: Harvey said the committee recommends that WHO “conduct a cross-organizational review of the current tools, structures, processes and coordination mechanisms to prevent, mitigate and manage all potential risks linked to emergency operations for those staff and communities.”

About the author

  • Sara JervingSara JervingsarajervingSara Jerving is a Global Health Reporter based in Nairobi. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Vice News, and Bloomberg News, among others. Sara holds a master’s degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism where she was a Lorana Sullivan fellow. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists in 2018, part of a Vice News Tonight on HBO team that received an Emmy nomination in 2018 and received the Philip Greer Memorial Award from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2014. She has reported from over a dozen countries

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