The World Health Organization’s chief on Thursday promised a “profound transformation” of the global body following allegations of rape and other sexual abuse by its staff in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
An independent commission of enquiry released a devastating report on September 28 that found that 21 of the WHO’s employees at the time committed abuses against dozens of people in the DRC during the 2018-2020 Ebola outbreak.
Since then, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has apologised to the victims.
The UN’s global health agency, under pressure from major donor countries, also pledged to quickly publish a response plan.
In a statement, Tedros said he was “committed to ensuring that the suffering of the survivors and their families is the catalyst for a profound transformation of WHO’s culture”.
WHO aims “create a culture in which there is no opportunity for sexual exploitation and abuse to happen, no impunity if it does and no tolerance for inaction”.
The agency has allocated an initial $7.6 million (6.5 million euros) to strengthen its capacity to prevent, detect and respond to allegations of sexual assault in 10 countries, including Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Venezuela.
The plan outlines immediate action, supporting victims and launching a series of audits.
In the medium term, the WHO is aiming for a “complete overhaul” through a “comprehensive reform of structures and culture”.
The WHO said it wants to put “victims and survivors” at the heart of its response and “strengthen individual and management accountability”.
It also intends to examine the cultural and structural factors that have led to sexual assaults in the DRC.
The report states that the lack of gender balance in WHO’s operational leadership and response teams may have contributed to an increased risk of sexual abuse.
The commission’s findings “are horrifying”, Tedros said in the preface to the report.
Sexual violence is “always unacceptable, but it is especially heinous when it is committed against vulnerable people by the very people who are employed to serve and protect them”, he said.