WHO announces plan for ‘profound transformation’ following sexual abuse allegations in DR Congo

The United Nations

The suffering of survivors of sexual abuse allegedly perpetrated by World Health Organization staff during the tenth Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is going to be “the catalyst for a profound transformation” of WHO’s culture.

The assurance came this Thursday from WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, while announcing a Management Response Plan to address the findings of an independent commission.

“This plan outlines the changes we will make as an organisation to make good on this commitment and to 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”, Tedros said.

Immediate action

The plan outlines several short-term actions, focusing on the most urgent recommendations of the independent commission.

The agency will start by supporting the survivors and their families, complete ongoing investigations, launch a series of internal reviews and audits, and reform its structures and culture.

Over the next 15 months, the agency will initiate an overhaul of its policies, procedures, and practices to increase safeguards against sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) in its programmes and operations.

In the field, this means the agency will provide livelihood support for victims and survivors, including more medical and psycho-social support, help them we job opportunities, and resources to potentially start a small business.

Children born as a result of these cases will also be supported, through educational grants and the covering of medical fees.  

In addition, the agency will ensure mandatory pre-deployment training and refresher training for any further postings, and create reporting channels for alerts or complaints.

WHO has allocated an initial $7.6 million to strengthen its capacities in ten countries with the highest risk profile: Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, DRC, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Venezuela and Yemen.

Changes in action

WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, informed that WHO is already putting into action many of the recommendations.

For example, during the current Ebola outbreak in North Kivu, as part of the first wave of deployments, the agency sent an expert in the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse, to Beni.

“Together with UN partners she is giving an in-depth two-day training to staff and NGOs and is reaching out to community leaders to raise awareness”, Ms. Moeti said.

In the past week, nearly 40 WHO and UN partner employees have received training in the issues. Many of them will then train other staff.

Almost 30 members of local community-based associations have also been briefed on how to protect the population and report suspected cases.

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