GENEVA (AP) – The World Health Organization has appointed a new official to fight sexual exploitation and abuse, following revelations that staff members have traded jobs for sex during a deployment in Congo to fight an Ebola epidemic, the United Nations agency said on Friday.
Dr Gaya Gamhewage, a 20-year WHO veteran, will seek to streamline and improve internal efforts to tackle sexual misconduct. The issue has particular implications for an agency whose job it is to protect the health of the world’s most vulnerable people.
WHO spokesperson Marcia Poole confirmed the appointment of Gamhewage, who has years of expertise in health emergencies and raised concerns about sexual exploitation and abuse. The appointment took effect Thursday and she 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 have no role in disciplinary actions,” Poole said in an email.
Western diplomats and nongovernmental groups have expressed concern over how WHO leadership responded to information first released in October 2020 about sexual abuse involving humanitarian workers in Congo battling an epidemic of ‘Ebola that erupted in 2018.
In May, the AP published a survey documenting that WHO senior management have been made aware of multiple allegations of sexual abuse involving at least two of the agency’s doctors during the outbreak.
Tedros was pictured in a photo on the WHO website with one of the doctors accused of sexual harassment and misconduct and a senior executive who received email complaints 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 report appeared on broader abuses in the humanitarian sector in 2020, Tedros appointed an independent commission to investigate the matter. He is expected to deliver his findings in August.
He acknowledged earlier this year that the WHO’s response to allegations of sexual abuse had been ‘slow’, and more than 50 countries have called on the agency to be more transparent about how these cases are handled. .
Gamhewage, who was most recently responsible for WHO’s learning and capacity development, has been outspoken on the matter. In an internal discussion on sexual abuse, she said that “the impunity with which we have operated has led to it”.
In audio recordings obtained by the Associated Press at a WHO public meeting in November, she denounced a “culture that allows women to be treated in this way not only by armed activists but also by our people. own colleagues ”. armed groups in northeastern Congo whose violence hampered the response of WHO and other aid groups to the Ebola outbreak that began in 2018.
“I really want us to have the courage to start making changes before this investigation is over, starting with our workplace and going all the way to the field,” she said, alluding to the investigation ordered by Tedros in October. “Training will not solve this problem.