Senior WHO official fired over sexual misconduct
Geneva, Switzerland — The World Health Organization said Monday it had dismissed a senior official over “findings of sexual misconduct” following at least three reported accusations against him in recent years.
The UN health agency, which has been working to improve its record on tackling sexual misconduct and abuse allegations, did not provide more details about its findings against Fijian doctor Temo Waqanivalu.
But media have reported that the top official in WHO’s non-communicable diseases division stands accused of at least three different instances of alleged sexual misconduct since 2017.
The Associated Press in January named him as the suspected perpetrator in a widely publicised case of alleged sexual assault during the World Health Summit in Berlin last October.
A young British doctor, Rosie James, tweeted at the time that she “was sexually assaulted by a WHO staff” member at the meeting.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus himself responded to her tweet, saying he was “horrified” by the accusations and offering his personal assistance, stressing the agency had “zero tolerance for sexual assault”.
The AP also reported that Waqanivalu had been accused of similar sexual misconduct in 2018, with little consequence for his career.
Instead, at the time the new allegation emerged against him last October, he had been seeking, with high-level support, to become the WHO’s top official in the western Pacific region, the report said.
“Waqanivalu has been dismissed from WHO following findings of sexual misconduct against him and corresponding disciplinary process,” spokeswoman Marcia Poole told AFP in an email.
The Financial Times earlier this month said it had unearthed a third accusation against him, dating back to an event in 2017.
The WHO declined to comment because investigations are confidential.
It did say that Waqanivalu had remained “on administrative leave during the investigation and administrative process.”
“We encourage all those who may have been affected by sexual misconduct to come forward through our confidential reporting mechanisms,” Poole said.
The ongoing WHO reform process comes after the agency faced massive criticism over its slow response to allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by aid workers sent to the DR Congo during the 2018-2020 Ebola outbreak.
In 2021, an independent report established that 21 WHO employees were among the 83 humanitarian workers accused of sexual exploitation and abuse against dozens of people in the DRC during the Ebola outbreak.
Poole said WHO participates in “ClearCheck” screening to prevent the re-hiring of abusers within the UN.