LONDON (AP) – UK, EU and US diplomats and donors have expressed serious concerns over how the World Health Organization has handled allegations of sexual abuse involving its own staff during an outbreak of ‘Ebola in Congo, as the Associated Press reported this week.
Tuesday the AP published a survey documenting that WHO senior management was made aware of multiple allegations of sexual abuse involving at least two of its doctors during the 2018 outbreak.
A notarized contract obtained by the PA showed that two WHO staff had signed an agreement between Dr Jean-Paul Ngandu of WHO and a young woman he allegedly impregnated in Congo. In it, Ngandu promised to pay the young woman money, cover her pregnancy costs and buy her land. The contract was made “to protect the integrity and reputation of the organization,” Ngandu said.
“The UK has a zero tolerance approach to sexual exploitation and harassment – and that extends to all the international organizations we fund,” said Simon Manley, UK Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva. “We are talking urgently with the WHO and other major donors to establish the facts.” Great Britain is the second largest donor to the WHO, after the United States.
In a statement, the US State Department said more needs to be done to address sexual abuse issues at the WHO. When asked about the PA’s investigation, officials said they were asking for more information on the allegations. “Those responsible for any abuse must be held accountable,” he said.
In Congo, UN humanitarian coordinator David McLachlan-Karr has said he is determined to punish any aid worker convicted of sexual misconduct like that detailed in the PA report.
“All of these allegations must be investigated and the victims must be heard,” he said in a statement. “These allegations undermine the confidence of the people we serve.”
The WHO declined to comment on the specific allegations reported by the PA and said it was awaiting the results of an expert group set up last October to investigate sexual abuse during the outbreak in Congo involving members. WHO staff.
“What is alarming is that the WHO appears to be keeping these abuses silent and not publicly condemning these allegations,” said Clare Wenham, assistant professor of global health policy at the London School of Economics. “There’s a lot of talk about giving more money to the WHO, but I don’t think any government should get involved until we know it’s an organization we can trust.”
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the agency’s third-largest funder, said it expects UN agencies to conduct full investigations into sexual abuse as quickly as possible.
“Our role as a funder is to hold the organizations that receive grants from the foundation to the highest standards of transparency and accountability,” the foundation said.
Lawrence Gostin, director of the WHO Collaborating Center on Global Health Law at Georgetown University, said ultimate responsibility for the WHO response to Ebola rests with director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The AP found that one of the doctors accused of sexual harassment, Boubacar Diallo, bragged about his relationship with Tedros, who mentioned Diallo during a speech in January 2019. The AP spoke with him. three women who said Diallo offered them jobs at WHO in exchange for sex; Diallo has denied the allegations.
“I find it hard to believe that Tedros would have known about these allegations and did nothing,” Gostin said. “(He) has to meet the highest ethical standards, so we have to understand what he knew and when he knew it. … Dr Diallo may have used his relationship with Tedros as leverage in sexual exploitation, but it wouldn’t be Tedros’ fault if he wasn’t aware of it.
Balazs Ujvari, a spokesperson for the European Commission, said he would “closely follow the investigations” of the PA. He said the commission was ready to review or suspend funding “for any partner who does not meet the required high ethical and professional standards and standards.”
The World Bank said it was “deeply concerned” by new allegations of sexual abuse at the WHO. The bank suspended negotiations with Congolese authorities for new funding to agencies, including the WHO, last year when reports of general sexual abuse during the Ebola outbreak surfaced.
“We are reviewing our relationships with any organization whose standards are in question,” the World Bank said.
Jiress Ngalya, a resident of Beni, Congo, where some of the recently reported sexual abuse allegations involving the WHO have occurred, said it would be a welcome move if donors cut funding to WHO after seeing how the agency was handling allegations of sexual abuse in the country.
“It should be a lesson for all humanitarian organizations not to abuse innocent women in our region,” he said. “It would show that they are not untouchable.”
Jamey Keaten in Geneva, Matthew Lee in Washington, and Al-Hadji Kudra Maliro in Beni, Congo, contributed to this report.