Is This WHO’s Me Too Moment?

In Global Advocacy, Global Featured, News by Julie Pascault

Following yet another investigation into allegations of sexual abuse perpetrated by UN employees, this time involving World Health Organization (WHO) workers responding to an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2018-2019, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) calls for WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to resign.

According to The New Humanitarian, which first broke the story of sexual abuses in the DRC, an independent commission set up to investigate the allegations “raise[d] serious questions about the WHO’s top leaders, and why they were unaware of the extent of the problem. Tedros, for example, visited Congo 14 times during the Ebola response, while other staff made even more visits.”

The investigation involved as many as 150 victims in the DRC, many of whom were subjected to sex-for-work schemes, and some reported being raped or forced to have sex without condoms. In response to the report, Tedros said in a press conference last week that while he was unaware of the allegations until the media reported them last year, he takes “ultimate” responsibility for the failings. He also said that victims’ voices have been heard and later added that several reforms are underway.

“Tragically, we hear the same tired promises whenever a UN sexual abuse scandal surfaces – about reforms, zero-tolerance for abuse, making sure it doesn’t happen again, and so on – but it keeps happening with impunity,” said AHF President Michael Weinstein. “If, as Tedros says, the ultimate responsibility is with him, then he must resign to do right by the victims and to demonstrate to perpetrators and would-be perpetrators that these are not empty words and there are real-life consequences for such deplorable conduct at the WHO.”

Despite the sexual abuse scandal unfolding at the WHO, Tedros is so far reportedly running unopposed for a second term as Director-General. The outcome of the election will be determined in May 2022. However, if the current sexual abuse crisis, combined with the incompetence in responding to the pandemic, is not enough to affect a leadership change at the WHO, then it is clear the agency is dysfunctional and due for a major restructuring.

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