The revelations of an investigation into suspected sexual assault by aid workers battling the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo have appalled the World Health Organization (WHO).
Matshidiso Moeti, Africa regional director, apologized to the women and girls who suffered between 2018 and 2020 “because of the actions of WHO’s staff”
Last year, WHO promised to look into accusations that aid workers fighting the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo sexually assaulted and exploited women. In a collaborative investigation by two news organizations, 50 women accused WHO and other assistance agency workers.
“Anyone identified as being involved will be held to account and face serious consequences, including immediate dismissal. The betrayal of people in the communities we serve is reprehensible,” it said in a statement.
Following similar claims against some of its personnel in other countries, the UN and humanitarian agencies have vowed zero tolerance for sexual assault.
According to the report, local women were allegedly plied with drinks, “ambushed” in hospitals, forced to have sex, and two became pregnant. The allegations cover the period between 2018 and March this year.
The New Humanitarian news agency and the Thomson Reuters Foundation have carried out an almost year-long investigation.
Local women said that they were plied with drinks and forced to have sex. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was “inexcusable”.
Dr Tedros said the 35-page report made for harrowing reading and apologized directly to the victims and survivors of the sexual exploitation and abuse.
“I’m sorry for what was done to you by people who are employed by WHO to serve and protect you,” he told a news conference on Tuesday, adding: “It is my top priority that the perpetrators are not excused but held to account.”
Mr. Moeti, meanwhile, said he was “humbled, horrified and heartbroken” by the findings of the independent inquiry.
Sexual assault against Who Employees
The report found that 21 of 83 alleged perpetrators had been employed by the WHO. The abuses, which included nine allegations of rape, were committed mostly by international staff.
The second greatest number of claims, made by eight women, were leveled against males allegedly working for the Democratic Republic of the Congo‘s health ministry.
Many men refused to wear condoms, and at least two women said they became pregnant as a result of the abuse, the news agencies reported.
In another instance, a 32-year-old Ebola survivor informed news outlets that she had been invited to a hotel for counseling.
She was served a soft drink in the reception. She claims she woke hours later naked and alone in a hotel room, feeling she had been raped.
The WHO said that it was terminating the contracts of four employees who were still employed by the organization and pledged that additional safeguards will be implemented.
The study is the result of an inquiry after more than 50 women accused WHO and other assistance agencies of sexual assault and exploitation.