ADDIS ABABA – Director of World Health Organization’s Africa Office, Matshidiso Moeti, said allegations that aid workers sexually abused women while tackling an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo are “heartbreaking”.
A year-long investigative report published by the New Humanitarian on Tuesday found that more than 50 women had accused staffs of WHO and other leading non-governmental sexually abused women in the DRC.
The alleged abuses took place during the 2018-2020 Ebola Crisis.
“The allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by aid workers in DRC’s Ebola response are heartbreaking,” she said, “I will do all in my power to ensure a timely, fair and transparent investigation”.
Dr. Moeti said she will ensure a “timely, fair and transparent investigation” and that those found to have been involved “will face serious consequences”.
The regional director said she would ensure mechanisms of reporting such acts are corrected.
A year-long investigation by two agencies revealed that aid workers who identified themselves as WHO staff sexually abused women in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The investigation report spoke to 50 local women who were allegedly plied with drinks, “ambushed” in hospitals, forced to have sex, and two became pregnant.
– ‘Outrage’ within WHO –
On Tuesday, the WHO said its leadership and staff were “outraged” by reports of sexual abuse by people saying they were working for the UN health agency.
“The actions allegedly perpetrated by individuals identifying themselves as working for WHO are unacceptable and will be robustly investigated,” it said in a statement.
WHO pointed out that it had a “zero tolerance policy with regard to sexual exploitation and abuse.”
It added its director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had initiated a thorough review into the allegations, which it did not elaborate on.
“I strongly support DrTedros’ decision to initiate a thorough review of the allegations. I’m fully committing to working with him to ensure that any flaws identified by investigators in our mechanism for reporting such allegations are corrected,” Dr. Moeti said.
Apart from the WHO, other UN agencies such as UNHCR, IOM have launched internal inquiry into the alleged sexual abuse, promising “serious consequences” for any culprits.
The DR Congo is currently battling a fresh Ebola outbreak in Equateur province, which has seen some 120 cases and 50 deaths since June.
The outbreak is DRC’s 11th, and its third in the past two years.