Vast Majority of WHO Sexual Misconduct Complaints Are in Africa Region
Dr Gaya Gamhewage, WHO Director of the Prevention of and Response to Sexual Misconduct (PRS) team and Lisa McClennon, Director of the WHO Office of Internal Oversight Services.

The vast majority of sexual misconduct complaints have been made in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Africa region, while the majority of abusive conduct complaints originate in the Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMRO), which comprises mainly of countries in North Africa and the Middle East.

This is according to the WHO’s dashboard on investigations into sexual misconduct.

Abusive conduct refers to all misconduct, excluding sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment (for example, discrimination and bullying).

Acknowledging that “culture change” is hard, Dr Gaya Gamhewage, WHO Director of the Prevention of and Response to Sexual Misconduct (PRS) team said that “more personnel are speaking up” and the number of allegations and disciplinary action was increasing.

Soon every duty station and every person who works with and for the WHO will understand how to prevent and respond to sexual misconduct, Gamhewage told a media briefing on Monday.

Describing the WHO’s accountability framework as “the most detailed” across UN agencies, Gamhewage said that “everyone who works with or for WHO, including senior leadership all the way up to the Director General, now has very distinct accountabilities for both preventing and responding to sexual misconduct”. 

“It’s intended to clarify for every member of the organisation, from me to the driver in Malawi, their individual accountabilities for both prevention and response,” she told a media briefing on Monday.

Every country office is also obliged to run a risk assessment for sexual misconduct and come up with a mitigation plan.

“That’s how we can be sure that we quantify and qualify the risks of sexual misconduct at every single duty station. So the mitigation plans are important and they have to be suited to each context. So far this year, nearly 40 countries have completed this and this allows us really to be targeted and contextualised in our work,” said Gamhewge.

Lisa McClennon, the newly appointed director of the WHO’s Office of Internal Oversight Services (IOS), reported that the investigative team has received 287 allegations of sexual misconduct, of which 120 have been investigated and 38 have been substantiated so far. 

“Since 2021, we have entered the names of 25 alleged perpetrators of sexual misconduct into the UN Clear Check database to prevent future employment within the UN system,” added McClennon.

Open-door sessions

To encourage openness, Gamhewge said she was hosting monthly “open-door virtual sessions” and monthly workforce surveys of the workforce. 

Almost 10,000 people have taken part in PRS webinars and open-door sessions this year, and more than 60,000 others have taken their courses and training. 

“I’ve personally met with nearly 200 of our 407 Country focal points. We openly talk about issues. We address concerns staff have and staff are proposing ideas for our culture to change so that, not only do we respond, but we prevent sexual misconduct from happening in the first place. “

The PRS will host a stakeholder review at the end of November to “further calibrate the actions we need to take, going into year two [of the WHO’s  three-year 

“The global event will focus on acknowledging and identifying best practices for addressing sexual misconduct across the system and looking at the joint challenges that we all continue to face,” she added.

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