December 10, 2022

WHO Africa director promises ‘full, fair and transparent investigation’ following shocking sexual abuse allegations during DR Congo Ebola response

Kigali
Kigali

The World Health Organization (WHO) Africa director, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, has reacted to allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation in the North Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by aid workers who identified themselves as working for WHO Ebola response.

She wrote: “The allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by aid workers, who identified themselves as working for the World Health Organization (WHO) Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are deeply horrific and heartbreaking. All my life as a woman, doctor, leader, mother and health worker, I have fought against gender inequality, as well as sexual harassment and abuse. When I became WHO Regional Director for Africa, I committed to advancing women’s careers and interests in the workplace and robustly addressing sexual harassment.

“I stand with anyone who has fallen victim to sexual violation during the Ebola response in the eastern DRC.

“I strongly support WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’ decision to initiate a thorough review of the allegations. I will do everything I can to contribute and ensure that a full, fair and transparent investigation takes place within the shortest possible time and that any perpetrators of these revolting acts face serious consequences. I will work with my colleagues in the region to safeguard the vulnerable in all our future operations.

“Furthermore, I commit to working with Dr Tedros to ensure that any flaws identified by investigators in our mechanism for reporting sexual abuse and exploitation are corrected and that we create an environment that prevents such violations from taking place in our operations.”

In a statement on Tuesday, the WHO in Geneva said it was “outraged by recent reports of alleged sexual exploitation and abuse in the context of the Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).”

The organization said the allegations were “unacceptable” and will be “robustly investigated.”

“The actions allegedly perpetrated by individuals identifying themselves as working for WHO are unacceptable and will be robustly investigated.

“The betrayal of people in the communities we serve is reprehensible. We do not tolerate such behaviour in any of our staff, contractors or partners.

“Anyone identified as being involved will be held to account and face serious consequences, including immediate dismissal.

“The Director-General has initiated a thorough review of the specific allegations, as well as broader protection issues in health emergency response settings.

“WHO has a zero tolerance policy with regard to sexual exploitation and abuse,” the WHO said.

An investigation by The New Humanitarian and the Thomson Reuters Foundation found that more than 50 women have accused Ebola aid workers from the World Health Organization and leading NGOs of sexual exploitation and abuse in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The report said “in interviews, 51 women – many of whose accounts were backed up by aid agency drivers and local NGO workers – recounted multiple incidents of abuse during the 2018 to 2020 Ebola crisis, mainly by men who said they were international workers. The majority of the women said numerous men had either propositioned them, forced them to have sex in exchange for a job, or terminated their contracts when they refused.”

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