Harare — Dr. Gaya Gamhewage, the physician in charge of the World Health Organization’s attempts to stop sexual abuse, went to the DR Congo in March 2023 to deal with the largest-known sex scandal in the history of the U.N. health agency: the mistreatment of more than 100 indigenous women by employees and others amid a fatal Ebola outbreak, Associated Press reports.
A young woman in one of the world’s poorest nations had to incur additional expenses after giving birth to a child with “a malformation that required special medical treatment,” according to an internal WHO report based on Gamhewage’s March trip. Gamhewage is the WHO Director, Prevention of and Response to Sexual Misconduct.
WHO reportedly gave U.S.$250 apiece to at least 104 women in the DR Congo who said they were sexually assaulted or taken advantage of by authorities. The women were not given the money randomly. They were required to finish training programmes meant to assist them in initiating “income-generating activities.”
The payments seem an attempt to get around the United Nations’ declared position that it does not make restitution payments by tucking the cash within what it refers to as a “full package” of assistance.
About one-third of the confirmed survivors were “impossible to locate,” the World Health Organization said in a classified paper last month. Approximately twelve women turned down the WHO offer.
The U.S.$26,000 in total that WHO has given the survivors is around 1% of the U.S.$2 million “survivor assistance fund” that the organisation established.
According to Gamhewage, the WHO also assisted in covering the medical expenses of 17 infants who were born as a result of sexual abuse and exploitation.
A piece of land and medical treatment was approved for at least one woman who was sexually assaulted by a WHO doctor. As part of an agreement “to protect the integrity and reputation of WHO,” the doctor also consented to pay U.S.$100 per month until the baby was delivered.
The United Nations health agency is still having trouble holding those responsible for sexual abuse and exploitation in the DR Congo to account. During the Ebola response, a panel commissioned by the WHO discovered at least 83 offenders, including at least 21 WHO employees. The youngest known survivor is a 13-years-old child.