Photo by GUERCHOM NDEBO/AFP via Getty Images.
WHO's $250 Payouts to Congo Abuse Victims Revealed in Internal Docs
Dr. Gaya Gamhewage confronts a historic sex scandal in the Democratic Republic of Congo as WHO grapples with allegations of widespread sexual abuse during the Ebola outbreak.
The World Health Organization (WHO) grappled with allegations of sexual abuse on a scale previously unseen within the organization. Earlier this year, Dr. Gaya Gamhewage, the doctor leading WHO's efforts to prevent sexual abuse, undertook a critical mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo. This mission aimed to address what has now become the most significant known sex scandal in the UN health agency's annals, involving the exploitation and abuse of well over 100 local women by WHO staffers and others during a devastating Ebola outbreak.
Details from an internal WHO report, documenting Dr. Gamhewage's visit in March, revealed a distressing incident where one of the abused women gave birth to a baby with a medical condition requiring specialized treatment. This, in turn, added another layer of hardship for the young mother in one of the world's most economically challenged nations.
To provide support for victims, WHO has disbursed $250 each to at least 104 women in Congo who reported being sexually abused or exploited by officials working on Ebola prevention. However, this compensation is strikingly modest when contrasted with the daily expenses of some UN officials stationed in the Congolese capital.
Compounding the complexity of the situation, the compensation wasn't granted unconditionally. Recipients were required to undergo training courses aimed at facilitating the initiation of "income-generating activities." This approach appears to be an attempt to navigate around the UN's policy against paying reparations, folding the funds into what WHO terms a "complete package" of support.
Unfortunately, many Congolese women who endured sexual abuse have yet to receive any assistance. WHO conceded in a confidential document last month that roughly a third of the known victims were "impossible to locate," and nearly a dozen women declined the offer of support.
The $26,000 provided by WHO to the victims represents a mere 1% of the $2 million "survivor assistance fund" created by WHO to aid victims of sexual misconduct, predominantly in Congo.
In the wake of these revelations, questions are being raised about the effectiveness of WHO's response. Dr. Gamhewage acknowledged that more needs to be done, asserting that WHO will directly consult survivors to determine the additional support they require. The organization has also contributed to covering medical costs for 17 children born as a result of sexual exploitation and abuse.
These revelations follow a May 2021 AP investigation, which exposed that senior WHO management had been informed of sexual exploitation during the Ebola response but took minimal action to address it. No senior managers, even those aware of the abuse during the outbreak, were dismissed.
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