WHO Appoints Official to Assist Stop Sexual Abuse by Workers | Well being Information

By JAMEY KEATEN, Associated Press

Geneva (AP) – The World Health Organization has appointed a new official to deal with the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse after it was revealed that workers allegedly swapped jobs for sex while on a mission in Congo to fight an Ebola outbreak announced the UN agency on Friday.

Dr. Gaya Gamhewage, a 20 year old WHO veteran, will seek to streamline and improve internal efforts to combat sexual misconduct. The issue has particular implications for an agency whose mission is to protect the health of the world’s most vulnerable.

WHO spokeswoman Marcia Poole confirmed the appointment of Gamhewage, who has years of expertise in health emergencies and has voiced concerns about sexual exploitation and abuse. The appointment went into effect on Thursday and it reports to WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“Dr. Gamhewage will work with the accountability departments to strengthen and expedite their work, but she will not play a role in disciplinary action,” Poole said in an email.

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Western diplomats and non-governmental organizations have raised concerns about how WHO management reacted to news that first appeared in October 2020 of sexual abuse of humanitarian personnel in the Congo in response to an Ebola outbreak that broke out in 2018.

In May, the AP released an investigation showing that WHO senior management had been informed of several sexual abuse allegations involving at least two agency doctors during the epidemic.

Tedros was pictured in a photo on the WHO website with one of the doctors charged with sexual harassment and misconduct and a senior executive who received complaints via email about the alleged abuse. The WHO chief referred to the doctor in a speech he gave to a committee of the WHO decision-making body.

Shortly after a first news report surfaced in 2020 of wider abuses in the humanitarian sector, Tedros appointed an independent commission to investigate the matter. It is expected to publish its results in August.

He admitted earlier this year that WHO had been “slow” to respond to sexual abuse allegations and that more than 50 countries had asked the agency to be more transparent about how such cases are being handled.

Gamhewage, who recently served as WHO Head of Learning and Capacity Development, has been open about the issue. In an internal discussion about sexual abuse, she said that “the impunity with which we operated leads to it”.

In audio recordings The Associated Press received from a WHO City Hall meeting in November, she criticized a “culture that allows women to be treated in this way not only by armed militants but also by our own colleagues.” armed groups in northeastern Congo whose violence hampered the response of WHO and other aid agencies to the Ebola outbreak that began in 2018.

“I really want us to be brave enough to make changes before this investigation is completed, from our workplace to the field,” she said, referring to the investigation ordered by Tedros in October. “Training won’t solve this problem.”

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