A World Health Organization doctor repeatedly accused of sexual abuse, as first reported by The Associated Press, has been removed from his position, the United Nations health agency announced.
United States and other countries they pressed to the WHO to do more in the fight against sexual abuse following the complaints against the doctor, the Fijian Temo Waqanivalu.
“Dr. Temo Waqanivalu has been fired from the WHO after the findings of (complaints) sexual abuse against him and the corresponding disciplinary file”agency spokeswoman Marcia Poole said in an email to the AP early Tuesday morning.
“The sexual abuse of any kind by someone working for WHO — be it a worker, a consultant or a partner — are unacceptable”, he added.
The AP reported in January that Waqanivalu had been accused of sexually assaulting a woman at a conference in Berlin in October, and had been denounced before senior WHO officials years before for alleged harassment of another employee.
The first complaint had no significant consequences for Waqanivalu, who led a small team in WHO’s department of noncommunicable diseases and had been preparing to run for regional director of the Western Pacific.
According to confidential documents obtained by the AP, Senior officials at the agency were informed of the sexual harassment complaint filed against Waqanivalu in 2018. The complainant was later informed that going ahead with a formal investigation might not be the best option for her.
Waqanivalu received an informal warning that did not cite the woman who made the complaint or her specific behaviour.
In interviews with WHO researchers, Waqanivalu “categorically” denied sexually assaulting anyone. She declined to comment to the AP.
In recent years, the agency has been plagued by numerous allegations of misconduct. In May 2021, the AP reported that senior WHO officials were made aware of allegations of sexual abuse during an Ebola outbreak in Congo, but did little to prevent it. A WHO-appointed committee later found that more than 80 agency-linked workers sexually abused women.
The Western Pacific regional director Waqanivalu was seeking to replace was placed on leave of absence in August, months after the AP reported numerous employees accused him of racist and abusive behavior that compromised the agency’s response to COVID-19.
(with information from AP)
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