The World Health Organization widely known for its humanitarian work across the globe has been caught up in a global storm that threatens its integrity. A commission set up by the agency found out that a substantial number of women were sexually abused in exchange for jobs during the Ebola pandemic mission visit to Congo.
Most of these victims were Congolese nationals whilst some were foreigners. Reports came out that most of the agency's employees were trading sex as a mechanism to progress inside the employment chain. The report which was published following the commission's investigation noted that most victims were exploited due to their precarious economic status.
Nadira, an activist that was based in Beni has reported that “ to get ahead in the job, you had to have sex, everyone had sex in exchange for something. It was very common” she continued “ I was even offered sex if l wanted to get a basin of water to wash in the base camp where we were staying”
WHO director Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has apologized to eh victims and committed that the agency will undertake a wholesale reform of policies and processes” to address cases of abuse and errant exploitation in the organization.
He said, "What happened to you should never happen to anyone. It is inexcusable. It is my top priority to ensure that the perpetrators are not excused but are held to account”. speaking on the issue, he also added that the agency would undertake a "wholesale reform of our structures and culture"
The response from W.H.O has attracted mixed feelings.
Esperence Kazi, coordinator of women's rights group 'One Girl One Leader' in Beni has welcomed this response urging "WHO to continue and show the community that its personnel who abused women and their daughters in our community have been genuinely, severely punished”.
However, the question that remains is whether the existing training framework for its employees is sufficient to curb the number of abuses occurring. This comes at a point where there is no certainty regarding the prosecution of the offenders. The prosecution is essentially meant to deter further criminal conduct. Whilst it might still be premature to comment on the prosecution of offenders at this stage, there is a growing feeling that the offenders might go unscathed or rather with very minimal punishment.
Although this is preferable, one cannot overlook the challenges that exist in the effective prosecution of offenders. There will require cooperation with the national prosecution authority in the country, something that might take longer depending on how the local authorities cooperate and show the will to prosecute.
However, the events should serve as an important lesson that big organizations need to constantly review their training framework to ensure that it keeps in line with good policies. N doubt that the organization isn’t the first to face such a scandal at this level. The catholic church has recently been hit by a wave of scandals with some priests allegedly sexually abusing vulnerable children. The response from W.H.O is welcome. However, more can be done regarding the prosecution of offenders.