WHO Dismisses Senior Manager on Sexual Misconduct Charges – British Doctor Expresses ‘Relief’ 
WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus describes WHO’s policy reforms in prevention of sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment in a January 2023 meeting with the WHO Executive Board0, following a string of cases in Geneva and elsewhere.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has dismissed a senior manager at its Geneva Headquarters, Temo Waqanivalu, on charges of sexual misconduct following a six-month investigation into allegations that he harassed a young British doctor at the World Health Summit in Berlin last October. 

This is the first high-profile dismissal of an official at WHO’s headquarters following a string of recent complaints and investigations involving personnel in Geneva, in WHO regional offices, and the WHO’s Ebola response team that operated in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) from 20180-2020.     

“Temo Waqanivalu has been dismissed from WHO following findings of sexual misconduct against him and corresponding disciplinary process,” WHO spokesperson Marcia Poole told Health Policy Watch in response to a query on Monday. 

The WHO response came exactly six months and one week after Dr Rosie James first tweeted that she had been “sexually assaulted” by a WHO staff member while attending an evening reception at the World Health Summit in Berlin, which WHO co-sponsored. 

At the time, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus responded by saying that he was “sorry and horrified” and urged her to file a complaint. 

James expresses relief following close of six-month investigation 

Dr Rosie James

In the end, the investigation took six months to complete. But that, WHO officials have stressed that six months is in fact the time frame set by the organization to ensure due process for both the complainant and the accused in such cases.   

Speaking to Health Policy Watch, James said that it “feels good that it is (hopefully) over.”

She said that she had received news from WHO of the dismissal in a letter on Monday.  But in the letter, the organisation also warned her against talking about the investigation saying “…. In this regard you are kindly reminded of the undertaking of confidentiality that you signed.” 

“I’m scared to say anything,” she told Health Policy Watch. “But it’s a relief to know that hopefully, I was the last woman to be affected by him.

“I hope that this gives confidence to other women to report cases, knowing that this case was taken seriously,” she added.  

She said that the process had been more emotionally stressful than she had anticipated – adding that access to some kind of counselling framework would have been helpful. 

“Having some support offered would have been nice, like a list of contact services that I could have available,” she added. “I think they did send me the email of one doctor or something, but I just felt like it was a really isolating process because I wasn’t allowed to talk with anyone.”

“Speaking up is [although not easy!] and option, she added in a Tweet.

Waqanivalu can still appeal the dismissal    

Temo Waqanivalu with his former team in WHO’s Department of Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs).

Speaking on behalf of WHO, spokesperson Marcia Poole said that “any administrative decision including dismissal from service may be appealed through the [WHO] internal justice system, and ultimately by filing a complaint before the International Labour Organization Administrative Tribunal.”

But meanwhile, she added that “WHO participates in the UN ‘ClearCheck’ screening database and perpetrators of sexual misconduct are entered into the database as a matter of standard process to avoid their hiring or re-hiring by UN agencies.

“Sexual misconduct of any kind by anyone working for WHO – be it as staff, consultant, partner – is unacceptable,” added Poole.

With regards to Jame’s remarks on her experience of the process, Poole told Health Policy Watch, “Over the past year-and-a-half, WHO has been implementing a comprehensive programme of reform across the entire organisation to prevent sexual misconduct and ensure that there is no impunity if it does and no tolerance for inaction. 

“We encourage all those who may have been affected by sexual misconduct to come forward through our confidential reporting mechanisms. All cases will be reviewed promptly.”

“We are listening to survivors and applying lessons learnt throughout the process so that we can realise our ambition to become ‘best in class’ when it comes to preventing and responding to SEA [sexual exploitation and abuse].”

Former frontrunner for Western Regional Office position 

Dr Temo K Waqanivalu
Dr Temo K Waqanivalu, a senior WHO staffer accused of sexual misconduct, is also campaigning to become Director of WHO’s Western Pacific Regional Office.

Prior to the incident in Berlin in October 2022, Waqanivalu was considered to be a front-runner in the race to become WHO’s next director of the Western Pacific Region. The former regional director, Takeshi Kasai, was recently dismissed from the post as a result of unrelated charges of harassment and racism.    

After being named publicly as the alleged perpetrator of the incident in Berlin as well as harassing a woman at a WHO workshop in 2017 in Japan, those hopes faded. 

According to media reports that surfaced in January, Waqanivalu had allegedly pursued and groped a woman at the Japan workshop who complained to a WHO ombudsperson. But the woman reportedly was discouraged from pursuing a formal complaint at that time.  

Waqanivalu, who has been on leave for the past six months, previously led WHO’s work on the integrated delivery of non-communicable disease services (NCDs).

In the case of James’s complaint, her decision to go public with the allegation of misconduct put a spotlight on the case from the beginning – even though she did not name the perpetrator at the time. 

There also were witnesses to the incident that occurred at the World Health Summit, a public WHO event. That places the case squarely within the scope of a  new WHO policy, which applies to a broad range of people interacting with WHO and in “locations where WHO staff and/or collaborators operate.” 

Image Credits: Twitter/@rosiejames96, Twitter/@@waqanivalut, WHO campaign brochure.

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