WHO Appoints Sex Abuse Investigator as New Internal Auditor
Lisa McClennon, incoming WHO internal auditor, addresses the Executive Board.

Lisa McClennon has been appointed Director of Internal Oversight Services (IOS), the office in charge of investigating all misconduct including sexual abuse and fraud, at the World Health Organization (WHO), the global body’s Executive Board heard on Wednesday.

McClennon has been IOS Head of Investigations since November 2021, and led investigations into the sex abuse scandal in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during the Ebola outbreak in 2018.

Prior to joining the WHO, she worked at the US Agency for International Development, where she was Deputy Assistant Inspector General for Investigations for six years.

Announcing the appointment, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus said McClennon would assume her new position – generally referred to as the Internal Auditor –  on 1 July, taking over from David Webb, who is due to retire in December.

“Lisa, in her previous capacity, has done an excellent job in investigations, leading our efforts to fast-track and clear the backlog,” said Tedros. “We’re happy to see her transition to this role, and confident her leadership will be critical to driving results.”

In a brief address, McClennon thanked the Executive Board for its support and confidence in her leadership.

“While the road ahead of us is long, the good news is that we are on it together. You have my commitment to be focused, to be collaborative, transparent, and results-oriented,” she told the board.

US board representative Loyce Pace welcomed the appointment: “This is exciting, late-breaking news for today for us because of course this this role is just so critically important,” said Pace. “We’re confident in her ability to do this work.”

Hot seat

McClennon has already faced some heat about the length of time WHO takes to investigate sexual abuse investigations following foot-dragging claims in relation to UK doctor Dr Rosie James’s sexual harassment by Dr Temo Waqanivalu at the World Health Summit in Berlin last October.

“We are fast, we’re rigorous, we’re thorough. We take a contemporary and survivor-centric approach to the matters that are referred to us in this effort,” she told Health Policy Watch in a recent interview. 

“This increased effort and focus in increased resources towards this matter began over a year ago, and we have been able to clear up several cases that had perhaps languished in the past.”

Over the past few months, several employees have been fired in sexual harassment cases.

Loyce Pace, Assistant Secretary in the Office of Global Affairs for the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Earlier in the meeting, US representative Pace had appealed to the WHO to address any claims of harassment and bullying within its ranks. 

“I want to take the time to highlight not only the sexual misconduct cases and what we expect to be cleared from among those that have increased in number, but we want to be sure that we’re also focused on harassment and other forms of abuse like bullying that happens at all levels of the organisation, and we continue to hear those cases,” said Pace.

“Of course, those cases arguably come forward because WHO is doing a better job creating space for staff and others to report on those, but let’s be sure we continue to address the issue and not just identify the issue moving forward.”

Lack of swift action is a persistent problem 

Meanwhile, a report of the Independent Oversight and Advisory Committee for the WHO Health Emergencies Programme released ahead of the World Health Assembly, which concluded on Tuesday, had raised concerns about delays in disciplinary action, noting, “delays in post-investigation disciplinary actions have generated frustration and marred confidence in the system.”

The committee had asked the WHO to provide the Human Resources department with additional expertise and capacity so they could act swiftly.

Apart from the allegations of sexual misconduct during the management of Ebola crisis in the DRC, the committee is also monitoring an investigation taking place in Syria that it was briefed about in November 2022. 

The committee “recommended that the investigation be conducted in collaboration with other UN entities, as relevant and findings be carefully communicated to donors.” 

But the oversight committee’s report also noted the seniority of the perpetrators. “The Committee was struck by the number of males in D-1 and P-5 leadership roles that are included on the dashboard as perpetrators. The IOAC is deeply concerned that the seniority of the perpetrators combined with a lack of swift disciplinary action is indicative of an ongoing culture of impunity across the Organization,” it said in its report

Need to include more women in WHO

While member states applauded the rising number of women at the WHO, they called for more efforts to improve inclusivity.

“We should have a zero tolerance when it comes to harassment, both sexual and at work, and that we need to maintain a perspective of greater inclusion through the participation of the women in the WHO,” Peru said.

The Executive Board finished its business on Wednesday and will not meet tomorrow as scheduled.

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