Sat | Feb 23, 2019

UN health chief orders probe into misconduct

Published:Thursday | January 17, 2019 | 3:23 PM
AP photo

LONDON (AP) — The head of the World Health Organization has ordered an internal investigation into allegations the U.N. health agency is rife with racism, sexism and corruption, after a series of anonymous emails with the explosive charges were sent to top managers last year.

Three emails addressed to WHO directors — and obtained by the Associated Press — complained about “systematic racial discrimination” against African staffers and alleged other instances of wrongdoing, including claims that some of the money intended to fight Ebola in Congo was misspent.

Last month, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told staffers he had instructed the head of WHO’s office of internal oversight to look into the charges raised by the emails.

He confirmed that directive to the AP on Thursday.

A WHO statement issued after the AP story was published said the agency was “aware” of such allegations and has “zero tolerance for misconduct or discrimination of any kind.”

The statement said Tedros has “championed openness, transparency and diversity” since he became WHO’s chief.

However, critics doubt that WHO can effectively investigate itself and have called for the probe to be made public.

The first email, which was sent last April, claimed there was “systematic racial discrimination against Africans at WHO” and that African staffers were being “abused, sworn at (and) shown contempt to” by their Geneva-based colleagues.

Two further emails addressed to WHO directors complained that senior officials were “attempting to stifle” investigations into such problems and also alleged other instances of wrongdoing, including allegedly misspent Ebola funds.

The last email, sent in December, labeled the behaviour of a senior doctor helping to lead the response against Ebola as “unacceptable, unprofessional and racist,” citing a November incident at a meeting where the doctor reportedly “humiliated, disgraced and belittled” a subordinate from the Middle East.

Tedros — a former health minister of Ethiopia and WHO’s first African director-general — said investigators looking into the charges “have all my support” and that he would provide more resources if necessary.

“To those that are giving us feedback, thank you,” he told a meeting of WHO’s country representatives in Nairobi last month. “We will do everything to correct (it) if there are problems.”

We want to hear from you! Send us a message on WhatsApp at 1-876-499-0169, email us at editors@gleanerjm.com or onlinefeedback@gleanerjm.com.