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United Nations Agency for Health: increasing misconduct reports are "positive"

GENEVA (AP) – The World Health Organization said Friday that it is witnessing increasing reports of misconduct reported by staff members at the UN Health Agency, which describe the trend as " a positive thing ".

OMS spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic said the agency is investigating misconduct for "years and decades", following the release of a report by the Associated Press reporting that the Director-General of the WHO he had ordered an internal investigation into statements that the agency is full of racism, sexism and corruption.

AP obtained three anonymous e-mails that accused numerous problems, including "systematic" racism against members of the African staff, and assumed that some of the money destined to fight the Ebola in the Congo was wasted.

Last month, the head of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, instructed the agency's internal oversight office to investigate the allegations, announcing its decision during a staff meeting in Geneva.

The first e-mail, which was sent last April, stated that there was "systematic racial discrimination against Africans at the WHO" and that African staff members were "mistreated, sworn (e) shown despised "by 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 alleged Ebola missiles.

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.

Some staff members feared that funds donated to help stop Ebola in the Congo "have not been used judiciously," the email said, warning that such errors could undermine the credibility of the WHO.

Tedros – a former health minister of Ethiopia and first African director general of the WHO – during the staff meeting said investigators investigating the allegations "have all my support" and that if necessary, would provide more resources.

The spokesman for the WHO, Jasarevic, said that WHO has "established procedures and people can report on any concerns they may have" and that all these allegations would be assessed by its internal oversight office.

"There are more reports of concern and this is a positive trend, for us it is important to know where there are cases of misconduct, so we can deal with them," said Jasarevic.

But critics have questioned whether the WHO could effectively investigate itself, pointing out that it was the WHO's internal oversight office to annoy the initial investigation into the allegations of sexual harassment against UNAIDS, which is technically part of the WHO.

The WHO internal investigation rejected these claims, before an independent report concluded last year there was a culture of impunity and of the toxic work environment at UNAIDS, which in the end he led his boss Michel Sidibe to resign.

"Having an internal investigation at WHO is as good as doing nothing," said Ed Flaherty, a lawyer who represents Martina Brostrom, the UNAIDS informant who denounced the allegations of sexual harassment.

Maria Cheng reported from London.

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