The World Health Organization has issued an action plan to address allegations that its staff and contractors engaged in widespread sexual abuse and exploitation during a recent Ebola outbreak in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
An independent commission established to investigate these allegations issued a searing report September 28. It found international staff and local hires responding to an Ebola outbreak between 2018 and 2020 had forced dozens of women to exchange sex for the promise of jobs.
The WHO says its plan for preventing similar abuse from occurring in the future puts the victim and survivor at the heart of its response. The plan outlines a series of reforms aimed at creating a culture of accountability and measures for bringing perpetrators of sexual exploitation and abuse to justice.
WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic says neither impunity nor inaction in the face of criminal behavior will be tolerated. He says the WHO already has acted in this regard.
“WHO has terminated the contracts of four people identified as perpetrators who were still employed by WHO when we received the report of the independent commission. Other people who have been identified as actual or alleged perpetrators are no longer employed by WHO. And what WHO can do is make sure that their names are referred to U.N. database to prevent re-employment in the U.N. system,” he said.
Jasarevic said people accused of allegations of rape and other physical violence also will be referred to national authorities in the DRC and in their national countries for investigation.
He said many of the recommendations of the commission are being put into place during the newest, current Ebola outbreak, which was detected in North Kivu province October 8.
“All staff who are deployed to the DRC for Ebola or recruited in the field are briefed on how to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse. They have signed an inter-agency code of conduct on this matter and have completed a mandatory training. The briefing on preventing sexual exploitation and abuse has also been given to drivers and guards working with us,” Jasarevic said.
As part of its victim and survivor-centered approach, the WHO says it will provide livelihood support, as well as comprehensive medical and psycho-social support for those who have suffered from sexual exploitation and abuse.
The agency says it also will support children born because of these violations, through educational grants and will cover any medical fees incurred.