Fri | Nov 24, 2017

US$6 million for Ebola fight stolen

Published:Sunday | November 5, 2017 | 12:00 AM
In this Friday, January 15, 2016 file photo, people pass a banner reading ‘STOP EBOLA’ forming part of Sierra Leone’s Ebola Free campaign.

FREETOWN (AP):

Fraud by Red Cross workers and others wasted at least US$6 million meant to fight the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the organisation confirmed yesterday.

The revelations follow an internal investigation of how the organisation handled more than US$124 million during the 2014-2016 epidemic that killed more than 11,000 people in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

The disease erupted in Guinea and quickly spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia. The international aid response was initially slow, and money once it arrived was often disbursed quickly in the rush to purchase supplies and get aid workers into the field.

As much as US$2.13 million disappeared as the result of "likely collusion" between Red Cross staff and employees at a Sierra Leonean bank, the investigation found.

It is believed that the money was lost when they improperly fixed the exchange rate at the height of the epidemic.

The International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) and Red Crescent Societies said it was "outraged" by what it had uncovered, and was strengthening its efforts to fight corruption, including introducing cash spending limits in "high-risk settings".

It also plans to send trained auditors along with emergency operations teams. Other measures will include additional staff training and "the establishment of a dedicated and independent internal investigation function".

"These cases must not in any way diminish the tremendous courage and dedication of thousands of volunteers and staff during the Ebola response. They played a critical and widely recognised role in containing and ending the outbreak, and preventing further spread of the Ebola virus internationally," said Dr Jemilah Mahmood, the IFRC undersecretary general for partnerships.