WHO hit by racism against African staff and sexism allegations

Nduta Waweru January 18, 2019
Photo: WHO

The World Health Organisation has reportedly launched an investigation into claims that sexism and racism is rife within the United Nations agency.

The investigation follows the revelation of claims in a series of emails sent to top management in 2018. According to the Associated Press, the email highlighted “systematic racial discrimination” against Africans as well as allegations that money to be spent on Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo was misspent. 

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus confirmed that the investigation, which he had called for in December 2018, was underway. The directive was seconded in a statement by WHO on Thursday, January 17.

The allegations are being investigated according to WHO’s established procedures, having been referred to WHO’s Office of Internal Oversight Services by the Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The anonymous allegations, which had been circulating internally, were also addressed openly by Dr Tedros in global meetings with staff in which he stressed that WHO has zero tolerance for misconduct or discrimination of any kind.


In an exclusive, the AP claimed that African staff were not only abused and sworn at, but also shown contempt by the Geneva-based colleagues. Other emails alleged that there has been efforts to stifle investigation into these claims as well as the misappropriation of Ebola funds.

The response from WHO states that the agency is “working consistently to increase geographical diversity and improve gender balance at all levels as part of its ongoing transformation process.”

Tedros made history as the first African director-general of the agency when he was appointed in 2017. He joined the organisation at a time when  it was facing accusations of being overly bureaucratic, slow, wasteful, and ineffective.

Among the changes Tedros made include transforming the leadership to include 60 per cent of women and planning to overhaul core business process.

WHO is not the first UN agency to face such allegations. In 2018, a number of women accused UNAIDS deputy chief Luiz Loures of sexual harassment. Subsequently, the agency came under fire for allegedly grossly mishandling the investigation into the case.  

As at December 2018, chief Michel Sidibe had agreed to step down after the investigations revealed that his leadership had enabled a toxic environment filled with abuse of power, bullying and sexual harassment.

Last Edited by:Nduta Waweru Updated: January 18, 2019


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