WHO donors seek deeper probe into Congo sexual abuse

The World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. /VCG

Major Western donors have pressed the World Health Organization (WHO) to launch a deeper external probe demanding how a major sexual abuse scandal in the Democratic Republic of Congo involving its staff was allowed to happen, diplomats told Reuters.

Some 83 aid workers, a quarter of them employed by the WHO, were involved in sexual exploitation and abuse during the country’s Ebola epidemic from 2018 to 2020, an independent commission said last month.

Women accused local and foreign aid workers of demanding sex in exchange for jobs and there were nine alleged rapes, the panel said in a report on the large-scale abuse in North Kivu and Ituri provinces.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and aides have shared its draft action plan with major donors – including the United States, Britain, European powers, Canada and Australia – prompting their calls for an external oversight body while the WHO also revamps internal policies, diplomats said.

The probe should examine how WHO management reacted to growing allegations and aim to establish wider accountability, they said.

The management plan, currently being revised and expected to be presented to WHO’s 194 member states on Thursday, should set out robust action and identify management failures to prevent future abuses in emergency operations, they added.

“My understanding for the delay is they are actually beefing it up,” a Western diplomat told Reuters.

The WHO said in an email reply that it has consulted staff, member states and others on its comprehensive plan to address the report’s recommendations and prevention in its operations.

“The consultations with member states continue this week. WHO will integrate their feedback into the plan; we aim to finalise it shortly and present it to member states,” it said.

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