Of Associated Press
LONDON – The head of the World Health Organization has ordered an internal investigation into allegations that the American health agency is full of racism, sexism and corruption, after a series of anonymous e-mails with the explosive charges were sent to the top managers last year.
Three e-mails addressed to WHO directors – obtained from the Associated Press – complained of "systematic racial discrimination" against African members and alleged other cases of irregularities, including claims that part of the money destined to fight Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was wasted.
Last month, the Director-General of OMS Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told staff members who had instructed the head of the WHO's internal surveillance office to examine the allegations raised by the e-mails. He confirmed this directive at the AP on Thursday.
Critics, however, doubt that WHO can effectively investigate itself and have demanded that investigations be made public.
The first e-mail, which was sent in April, stated that there was "systematic racial discrimination against Africans at the WHO" and that African staff members were "mistreated, sworn (e) shown contempt "from their colleagues based in Geneva.
Two more e-mails addressed to WHO directors complained that senior officials were "trying to stifle" investigations into these problems and also alleged other cases of irregularities, including wrong Ebola funds.
The last email, sent in December, labeled the behavior of an elderly doctor who helped guide the response against Ebola as "unacceptable, unprofessional and racist," citing a November incident at a meeting in which the doctor reported "humiliated, dishonored and diminished" subordinated by the Middle East.
Tedros – a former health minister of Ethiopia and the first African director general of the WHO – said that investigators who examine the allegations "have all my support" and that he would provide more resources if needed.
"To those who are giving us feedback, thank you," he said in a meeting of representatives of the WHO countries in Nairobi, Kenya, last month. "We will do everything to correct (if) there are problems."
But Tedros rejected the claims that the WHO recruitment policies are distorted, arguing that his top management was more geographically heterogeneous and gender-balanced than any other U.N. after taking measures to be more inclusive.
"There's already a change," he said during the December staff meeting, based on an audio recording provided to the AP.
The WHO's internal investigation of misconduct comes after other US agencies have been shaken by harassment complaints.
At UNAIDS, Chief Michel Sidibé agreed to resign in December after an independent report concluded that his "defective leadership" had created a toxic work environment, with employees complaining of unbridled sexual harassment, bullying and power abuse.
The author of the anonymous OMS e-mails also stated that there were "dishonest recruitment and selection processes" that were "equivalent to fraud, corruption and abuse of authority".
In the last anonymous message, the author identified the alleged process of hiring an elderly manager in the EMS emergency department, suggesting that it could lead to errors by incompetent officials involved in efforts to stop the ebola in the Congo.
Some staff members feared that funds donated to stem the spread of the deadly virus "were not used judiciously," the email said, warning that such errors could undermine the credibility of the WHO.
"An airplane was hired to transport three vehicles from the Dubai warehouse at a cost of $ 1 million, why does OMS ship vehicles from Dubai? We would appreciate the logic when the jeeps in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo) can be purchased at $ 80,000 per vehicle, "said the e-mail, claiming that the stories of logistical corruption and purchases in the EMS Geneva department are" legendary ".
David Webb, director of the OMS internal oversight office, said he and his team would monitor those allegations, as well as about 150 other statements that were reported to his office this year. Webb said the investigations would be conducted independently, although this would be done by the WHO members.
Critics outside the organization said it was not enough.
"That is the same office that destroyed the initial investigation of UNAIDS," said Edward Flaherty, a lawyer representing Martina Brostrom, the UNAIDS informant whose sexual harassment allegations led to the resignation of Sidibé. "Having an internal investigation at WHO is as good as doing nothing".
Oyewale Tomori, a Nigerian virologist who previously worked at WHO and is now part of some of his counseling groups, was not surprised by the claims of racism, sexism and corruption.
"After what I saw at WHO, I have no doubt that everything in those emails is true," he said.
Join the conversation chirping and Facebook.