In Brief

WHO aid workers offered ‘jobs for sex’ during DRC Ebola outbreak

More than 50 women allege abuse by men who said they were international aid providers

Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were exploited by World Health Organization (WHO) workers running a “sex for jobs racket” during the 2018 to 2020 Ebola outbreak, an investigation has found.

Staff in the DRC, including doctors, are accussed of demanding sex in exchange for short-term positions as cooks, cleaners and outreach workers, an investigation by the New Humanitarian and the Thomson Reuters Foundation has revealed.

The accounts of more than 50 women, many of which “were backed up by aid agency drivers and local NGO workers”, describe “multiple incidents of abuse, mainly by men who said they were international workers”, The Guardian says.

“The number and similarity of many of the accounts from women in the eastern city of Beni suggests the practice was widespread”, the paper continues, with UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres calling for the allegations to be “investigated fully”.

The WHO said in a statement that the allegations would be “robustly investigated”, and that “anyone identified as being involved will be held to account and face serious consequences, including immediate dismissal”.

“The betrayal of people in the communities we serve is reprehensible,” the WHO added.

Thirty of the women described sexual exploitation by men who said they were working for the WHO, while others said their abusers claimed to work for the Congolese health ministry. Many of the men refused to use condoms for sex that was described as a “passport to employment”, the women said.

Imogen Foulkes, a BBC journalist based in Geneva, writes that criticism of the WHO has mounted during the coronavirus pandemic, however, “up until now criticism… has been mainly from the US, and the organisation has been comforted by support, both moral and financial, from many other countries.

“That support may now be shaken, just at the moment the world needs a global public health body beyond reproach,” she adds. The UK last week increased its contribution to the organisation to £340m, becoming its third-largest donor in the process.

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