The World Health Organization (WHO) expressed outrage and pledged to investigate allegations that aid workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo sexually abused and exploited women.
The actions were allegedly perpetrated by individuals identifying themselves as working for the WHO and are tackling the Ebola outbreak in the DR Congo.
Two news agencies investigated 50 women who accused the WHO and other aid agency staffs of allegedly plying them with drinks, “ambushed” them inside hospitals and forced them to have sex.
The New Humanitarian news agency and the Thomson Reuters Foundation have carried out an almost year-long investigation over the period between 2018 and March this year.
The WHO said the allegations would be “robustly investigated and anyone identified as being involved will be held to account and face serious consequences, including immediate dismissal,” it said in a statement.
“The betrayal of people in the communities we serve is reprehensible.”
The WHO, which spearheaded global efforts to curb the spread of the Ebola outbreak in DR Congo, where more than 2,000 people died, declared it over in June this year.
The UN and aid agencies have previously promised zero tolerance of sexual abuse following similar allegations against some of their staff in other countries.
A spokesperson for the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said it would scrutinise the WHO findings closely, adding: “Sexual exploitation and abuse are completely abhorrent. We regularly assess all of our partners against the highest safeguarding standards.”
Most of the allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation were against men, including doctors, said to be from the WHO. At least 30 women made allegations against them, the news agencies reported.
The next highest numbers of allegations – made by eight women – were against men said to be from DR Congo’s health ministry.
Two other UN agencies, and four international charities, were also named in the report.
Some of the accused men came from Belgium, Burkina Faso, Canada, France, Guinea-Conakry and Ivory Coast.
Many men refused to wear condoms, and at least two women said they became pregnant as a result of the abuse, the news agencies reported.
Many women said they were forced to have sex in exchange for jobs, with one describing it as a “passport to employment” and another said “they hire you with eyeballs”.
Women said they were approached outside supermarkets in the eastern city of Beni, job recruitment centres, and hospitals where lists of successful candidates were posted.
The news agencies also quoted one woman as saying that “the practice of men demanding sex had become so common that it was the only way to get a job”. (Source: BBC)