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    HomeWorldScientist on China COVID Mission Fired by WHO for Sexual Misconduct

    Scientist on China COVID Mission Fired by WHO for Sexual Misconduct

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    The World Health Organization (WHO) has dismissed a senior scientist, Peter Ben Embarek, for sexual misconduct. Ben Embarek was previously the head of WHO’s ‘One Health’ initiative on diseases jumping from animals to humans, and was known for his role in investigating the origins of COVID-19 in China. The WHO said that Ben Embarek was dismissed last year following findings of sexual misconduct that were substantiated by investigations. However, Ben Embarek is challenging the accusation of harassment. He said that a single incident in 2017 “was settled immediately in a friendly way.” He also said that he is not aware of any other complaints against him.

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    The WHO did not provide further details of the misconduct allegations. The cases that led to Ben Embarek’s dismissal occurred in 2015 and 2017, and the agency was first made aware of them in 2018. Marcia Poole, a WHO spokesperson, said that the dismissal can be appealed through the U.N. internal justice system. The WHO has overhauled its handling of sexual abuse and misconduct cases after a 2021 inquiry found that dozens of aid workers, including some from WHO, had been involved in sexual abuse and exploitation during an Ebola crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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    Ben Embarek’s dismissal comes after he led a WHO team to China in 2021 to investigate where COVID-19 came from. The team concluded that bats were the most likely initial hosts of the virus, and that a leak of the virus from a laboratory in China was “highly unlikely,” despite calls from various scientists to probe that possibility. Ben Embarek later said that there had been some political pressure on the team, including from outside China, but that nothing in the report had been changed as a result.

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    The WHO has started a monthly report on disciplinary action taken against sexual abuse and misconduct cases.

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