WHO officials accused of sexual abuse can still be promoted, docs reveal

With a doctor levying accusations against a World Health Organization staffer, new documents uncovered show the WHO was aware of past allegations against the same individual.

WHO officials accused of sexual abuse can still be promoted, docs reveal
hectorchristiaen - stock.adobe.com
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Appointed officials at the World Health Organization can still work their way up the bureaucratic ladder despite sexual abuse allegations, documents show. It appears that there is high tolerance for sexual assault at the WHO, despite claims of the contrary.

Reports of sexual assault at the World Health Summit in Berlin, Germany, in October 2022 went viral on Twitter after allegations were directed at an unnamed WHO staffer by an attendee.

Doctor Rosie James, an academic doctor at the University Hospital Network in North Midlands UK, shared that this was not the first instance of sexual assault in the global health sphere, followed by disappointment and the hashtags #ZeroTolerance, #MeToo and #GenderEquity.

The official Twitter account for the World Health Summit quickly chimed in, saying they hope the situation clears up quickly.

James was urged to file a report with WHO's investigations department by the organization's director-general, Tedros Ghebreyesus, who wrote that he was horrified to hear this and stated the WHO has zero tolerance for sexual assault.

Director-General at the WHO, Tedros Ghebreyesus, wrote that he was horrified to hear this and stated that the WHO has zero tolerance for sexual assault, urging James to file a report with the investigations email of the WHO.

The now-identified staffer accused in Berlin is Fijian physician Temo Waqanivalu, who appears to have a history of sexual assault, according to reporting by the Associated Press.

As the head of integrated delivery for noncommunicable disease (NCD) services, Dr. Waqanivalu was first accused of physical advancements on a female colleague during a 2017 WHO workshop in Japan.

The article alleges that Waqanivalu was flagged to senior officials in 2018. Despite the apparent “zero tolerance” for sexual assault described by Tedros, it appears that Waqanivalu has remained gainfully employed by the WHO and is also on the docket to be promoted to head the WHO’s Western Pacific Regional Office.

At a WHO press conference, Lisa McClennon, head of investigations at the WHO’s Office of Internal Oversight Services (IOS), refuted the idea that sexual assault is tolerated at the agency.

Criticisms abound that the IOS is essentially tasked with investigating itself and run by a director that is appointed by Director-General Tedros, as is the nature of staff appointments at the WHO.

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