The World Health Organization (WHO) has fired a senior official named Temo Waqanivalu due to “findings of sexual misconduct”. This comes after at least three accusations against him in recent years. WHO did not provide details on the findings but media outlets have reported that Waqanivalu has been accused of sexual misconduct in at least three different instances since 2017. The AP named him as a suspected perpetrator in a widely publicized case of alleged sexual assault during the World Health Summit in Berlin last October. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus responded to the accusations, offering his personal assistance and stressing the agency’s “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, when the new allegation emerged against him last October, he had been seeking support to become the WHO’s top official in the western Pacific region. The Financial Times earlier this month said it had unearthed a third accusation against him dating back to an event in 2017. WHO did not immediately respond to a request to confirm these details.
In response to the firing, WHO spokeswoman Marcia Poole emphasized that “sexual misconduct of any kind by anyone working for WHO – be it as staff, consultant, partner – is unacceptable.” She also pointed out that over the past year and a half, WHO has been implementing a comprehensive program of reform across the entire organization to prevent sexual misconduct and ensure that there is no impunity if it does and no tolerance for inaction. WHO participates in the UN “ClearCheck” screening database, aimed at ensuring that perpetrators of sexual misconduct are not rehired elsewhere within the UN system.
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. WHO encourages all those who may have been affected by sexual misconduct to come forward through their confidential reporting mechanisms.