The Health Organization Provided
LONDON – Earlier this year, the doctor in charge of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) efforts to prevent sexual abuse visited Congo to tackle the largest recorded sex scandal in the U.N. health agency’s history. More than 100 local women were subjected to abuse by employees and others during a severe Ebola outbreak.
During Dr Gaya Gamhewage’s trip in March, an internal report by the WHO revealed that a woman who had experienced abuse gave birth to a baby with a malformation that necessitated specialized medical care. This situation has resulted in additional expenses for the young mother, who resides in one of the world’s least developed nations.
World Health Organization (WHO)
The World Health Organization (WHO) has provided financial compensation of $250 to 104 women in Congo who have reported being sexually abused or exploited by Ebola response officials. Notably, this amount is lower than the daily expenses of certain U.N. officials based in the Congolese capital, as revealed by internal documents from The Associated Press.
During her three-day visit, the amount received by Gamhewage per day was $19 higher than the compensation received by these victims.
The mentioned amount is adequate to cover basic living expenses for less than four months in a country where, according to WHO records, many individuals survive on less than $2.15 per day.
To receive the payments, women had to participate in training courses designed to assist them in initiating “income-generating activities.” These payments seem to attempt to bypass the U.N.’s policy against providing reparations by incorporating the funds into what is termed a “complete package” of support.
According to a recent confidential document from the World Health Organization (WHO), a significant number of Congolese women who have experienced sexual abuse have yet to receive any form of assistance. The report states that approximately one-third of the known victims are currently untraceable.
Additionally, despite efforts made by WHO, nearly a dozen women have declined the organization’s offer of support.
WHO has allocated a sum of $26,000 to support the victims, which corresponds to roughly 1% of the $2 million survivor assistance fund established explicitly by WHO for individuals affected by sexual misconduct, primarily in Congo.
Recipients interviewed expressed that the money they received was insufficient, but they placed a higher value on seeking justice.
According to Paula Donovan, co-director of the Code Blue campaign that aims to eliminate impunity for sexual misconduct within the U.N., she characterized the payments made by WHO to victims of sexual abuse and exploitation as “perverse.”
According to Donovan, it is not uncommon for the U.N. to provide individuals with seed money to improve their livelihoods. However, combining compensation for sexual assault or crimes resulting in childbirth is considered unimaginable.
Donovan further criticized the requirement for women to undergo training before receiving financial assistance, stating that it imposes uncomfortable conditions on victims seeking help.
According to the WHO documents, the two individuals who spoke with Gamhewage expressed their desire for the responsible parties to be held accountable, ensuring the safety of others. The identities of these women were not disclosed.
Gamhewage, in an interview, stated that it is impossible to compensate for the detrimental effects of sexual abuse and exploitation.
The World Health Organization (WHO), in determining its “victim survivor package,” considered various factors such as the cost of food in Congo and global guidance on appropriate cash distribution to avoid exacerbating harm. It is important to note that the WHO adheres to recommendations provided by local charities and other U.N. agencies.
Gamhewage acknowledged that more needs to be done, stating that the World Health Organization (WHO) will seek input from survivors to determine their specific support needs. Furthermore, she mentioned that the WHO has provided financial assistance to cover medical expenses for 17 children who were born from instances of sexual exploitation and abuse.
A woman who claimed to have been sexually exploited and impregnated by a doctor from the World Health Organization (WHO) reached a compensation agreement approved by agency officials. The compensation package included a piece of land and World Health Organization (WHO).
Additionally, the doctor agreed to make monthly payments of $100 until the baby was born to safeguard the reputation and integrity of the WHO.
During interviews, several other women who claim to have been sexually exploited by WHO personnel have expressed their belief that the agency has not taken sufficient action.
One such individual, Alphonsine (34), disclosed that she was coerced into engaging in sexual activities with a WHO official in return for a position as an infection control worker with the Ebola response team in Beni, a significant location during the 2018-2020 outbreak. Like the others, she has chosen not to disclose her full name for security reasons.
Alphonsine verified that she had received $250 from the WHO. However, the agency informed her that she must complete a baking course to qualify for it.
“The money provided some assistance at the moment, but it fell short,” Alphonsine disclosed. She revealed that later on, she faced bankruptcy and preferred receiving a piece of land and sufficient funds to establish her own business.
When working in Congo, a WHO staff member receives a standard daily allowance ranging from approximately $144 to $480. Gamhewage, during her three-day trip to Kinshasa, the capital of Congo, received $231 per day as indicated by an internal travel claim.
According to the internal documents, the allotted budget of $1.5 million for the prevention of sexual misconduct in Congo for 2022-2023 is primarily allocated to staff costs, which account for over half of the budget ($821,856).
Additionally, 12% of the budget is dedicated to prevention activities, while 35% ($535,000) is allocated for “victim support,” covering various forms of assistance such as legal aid, transportation, and psychological support. It’s important to note that this budget is separate from the $2 million survivor assistance fund, which supports victims worldwide.
The World Health Organization (WHO) in the Democratic Republic of Congo receives a budget of approximately $174 million, with the most significant contributor being the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The UN World Health Organization (WHO) agency is currently facing challenges in holding accountable those responsible for sexual abuse and exploitation in Congo.
A panel commissioned by the WHO discovered a minimum of 83 perpetrators during the Ebola response, including 21 WHO personnel. The youngest known victim was 13 years old.
World Health Organization
In May 2021, an investigation by the Associated Press uncovered that senior management of the World Health Organization (WHO) had been informed about cases of sexual exploitation that occurred while the agency was working to combat Ebola. However, little was done to intervene and prevent these abuses. Notably, no senior managers, including those with knowledge of the misconduct during the outbreak, faced termination.
The WHO has faced pressure from Congolese authorities for a while now. According to internal documents, the WHO has provided information to the authorities about 16 alleged perpetrators of sexual abuse and exploitation associated with the organization during the Ebola outbreak.
However, there are concerns that the WHO has not taken adequate disciplinary action. Another Congolese woman, who claimed to have been forced into a sexual relationship with a WHO staff member in exchange for a job during the outbreak, also received $250 from the organization after completing a baking course.
Denise, 31, expressed her disappointment, stating that despite promises to address the issue, follow-up has yet to be conducted regarding the evidence.
According to a recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO), five staff members were dismissed due to allegations of sexual misconduct in 2021.
However, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), mistrust persists.
Audia, 24, shared her experience with the Associated revealing that she was forced into a sexual relationship with a WHO official in exchange for a job opportunity during the outbreak. As a result, she now has a five-year-old daughter and received an inadequate compensation of $250 from the WHO after completing courses in tailoring and baking.
Her concerns revolve around future World Health Organization (WHO) crises in the conflict-ridden eastern region of the DRC. The limited infrastructure and resources in the area heavily rely on external assistance from the WHO and other organizations.
“I no longer have faith in the WHO,” she explained. “When they abandon you without taking action, it’s simply irresponsible.”