By Faith Nyasuguta
A report has revealed that the World Health Organization (WHO) staffers were among some 83 aid workers who sexually abused women and girls while tackling the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
According to the report, the abuses which included nine rape allegations were committed by both national and international workers between 2018 and 2020.
The details have been revealed after over 50 local women reported sexual abuse. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was “inexcusable”.
Following a recent investigation, the 35-page report was produced by an independent commission.
The commission is reported to have interviewed scores of women who had alleged they were offered work in exchange for sex. They later found that 21 of the 83 alleged perpetrators were allied to the WHO.
Further allegations showed that local women were also plied with drinks, “ambushed” in hospitals, forced to have sex, and even two became pregnant.
The WHO announced the termination of contracts of four people who were still employed by the UN agency and vowed to take more measures.
On Tuesday, Dr. Tedros who was speaking at a news conference said the report made for harrowing reading and apologized directly to the victims and survivors.
“I’m sorry for what was done to you by people who are employed by WHO to serve and protect you,” he said.
“It is my top priority that the perpetrators are not excused, but held to account.”
He indicated that the responsibility ultimately rested with him and vowed to help support and protect victims while saying he would overhaul the WHO’s structure and culture.
Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Africa regional director also apologized to those who had suffered “because of the actions of our staff.”
She indicated that she was “humbled, horrified and heartbroken” by the findings of the report.
According to the commission, there were “clear structural failures and unpreparedness to manage the risks of incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse” in D.R. Congo. It added that this was partly because of the agency’s focus on eradicating Ebola.
Over 2,000 people died in the Ebola outbreak in DR Congo with the WHO declaring an end to the outbreak in June 2020.
WHO has been spearheading global efforts to counter the spread of Ebola.