WHO Adds New Official To Prevent Sexual Abuse After Staff Members Allegedly Traded Jobs For Sex


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The World Health Organization (WHO) added a new official to prevent sexual abuse and exploitation among its ranks after staffers, while on a deployment to fight an Ebola outbreak in the Congo, allegedly traded jobs for sex.

Dr. Gaya Gamhewage, a doctor who has worked for the WHO for two decades, will be the official overseeing the effort to fight sexual misconduct and exploitation in WHO operations around the world, WHO spokeswoman Marcia Poole confirmed, according to The Associated Press. In her new role, Gamhewage will report directly to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Gamhewage was appointed to the position Thursday because of her extensive experience handling health emergencies, and her outspokenness about sexual misconduct at the WHO, Poole claimed, according to the AP.

“Dr. Gamhewage will work with the accountability departments to strengthen and speed up their work, but she will not have a role in disciplinary actions,” Poole told the AP in an email.

The new appointment stems from reports in October 2020 that humanitarian staff in Congo, dispatched to combat an Ebola outbreak in the country in 2018, were perpetrators of sexual abuse and misconduct, the AP reported. A number of diplomats and non-governmental organizations have expressed serious concerns over the allegations and demanded more transparency from the WHO on how it handles these matters, according to the AP.

An investigation performed by The Thomson Reuters Foundation and Geneva-based New Humanitarian interviewed 51 women involved in the 2018 Ebola outbreak, and found more than half had been sexually mistreated. One of the women even told the investigators that sex with aid workers was like a “passport to employment.”

Another investigation into how the WHO’s senior-level management responded to these allegations by the AP in May revealed that senior officials were informed of multiple allegations of sexual abuse perpetrated by at least two WHO doctors in Congo.

Tedros apparently had a professional and personal relationship with one of the doctors accused of sexual misconduct, given a photo on the WHO’s website pictured Tedros with the doctor and another official who received email complaints about the sexual abuse, according to the AP. Tedros also mentioned one of the accused doctors by name in a speech he delivered in front of a WHO committee, the AP noted.

The World Health Organization on Friday urged fully vaccinated people to continue to wear masks, social distance and practice other Covid-19 pandemic safety measures as the highly contagious delta variant spreads rapidly across the globe. – @CNBC https://t.co/60YICbuGHe

— MSNBC (@MSNBC) June 26, 2021

When the allegations of sexual misconduct became public in 2020, Tedros appointed an independent commission to investigate the matter. That commission is expected to release its results in August, and Tedros has since acknowledged the WHO’s response to these accusations has been “slow,” the AP reported.

Prior to her appointment to this new role, Gamhewage served as the head of the WHO’s learning and capacity development department. She has reportedly spoken out on multiple occasions against how the WHO has handled these matters. The “impunity with which we have operated is leading to this,” Gamhewage said during internal discussions on sexual abuse at the WHO, according to the AP. (RELATED: WHO Has Used ‘Brazilian Variant’ And Other Terms In Violation Of Its Own Best Practices)

Gamhewage can be heard on audio recordings obtained by the AP from a November 2020 WHO town hall meeting condemning a “culture that allows women to be treated in this way not just by armed militants but also by our own colleagues.” Her comment regarding armed militants were apparently in reference to armed militants in Congo that impeded the WHO’s response to the 2018 Ebola outbreak, the AP claimed.

“I really want us to be courageous enough to start making changes before this investigation is over, starting with our workplace and going all the way to the field,” Gamhewage said in light of the appointment of the independent commission, according to the AP. “Training is not going to solve this problem,” she added.

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