UN found no managerial misconduct at WHO in Congo sex scandal

FILE PHOTO: Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends an ACANU briefing on global health issues, including COVID-19 pandemic and war in Ukraine in Geneva, Switzerland, December 14, 2022. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

GENEVA (Reuters) - A U.N. investigation into the World Health Organization's managerial mishandling of a sex scandal in the Democratic Republic of Congo found that allegations against senior staff were "unsubstantiated," the health agency chief said on Tuesday.

Dozens of aid workers including some from the WHO were involved in sexual abuse and exploitation during an Ebola crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, an independent commission found in 2021 after victims' stories surfaced in the media.

The women, including cooks, cleaners and community workers, had told reporters that aid workers had demanded sex in exchange for jobs between 2018 and 2020.

The commission also alleged that some senior WHO staff knew about the ongoing abuse and failed to act. The agency responded by suspending three staff members more than a year ago and the U.N. investigations office launched a probe.

"In my view, the failure of WHO employees to respond adequately to reports of sexual exploitation and abuse is as bad as the events themselves," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at the time.

However, addressing a WHO board meeting on Tuesday, Tedros said that the U.N. report had concluded that the allegations made by the independent commission had not been backed up and the staff members would return to work.

The WHO has not named the managers involved and the U.N. report has not been made public.

"The report finds that the allegations of managerial misconduct against the three staff members identified by the Independent Commission were unsubstantiated," Tedros said, adding that an oversight committee would be reviewing the inconsistencies between the findings of the two reports.

The U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services did however find "institutional shortcomings" in WHO's handling of sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment (SEAH), Tedros said, adding that these were already being addressed.

Since the Congo revelations, the 75-year-old organisation has faced considerable donor pressure to overhaul its handling of SEAH cases and is implementing a broader reform package.

(Reporting by Emma Farge; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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