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European diplomats concerned by WHO sexual abuse reports in Congo

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The logo of the World Health Organization is seen at their headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.
The logo of the World Health Organization is seen at their headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus, file

European diplomats have voiced serious concerns over how the World Health Organization (WHO) has handled sex abuse allegations involving its own staff.

An investigation by the Associated Press claimed that senior WHO management was informed of multiple allegations involving at least two of its doctors during the 2018 outbreak of Ebola in Congo.

A contract published in the investigation reportedly showed two WHO staff signing off on an agreement between a doctor and a young woman he allegedly impregnated.

The WHO has declined to comment on the specific allegations reported by the AP. The Organization said it is waiting for the results of a panel created last October to investigate sexual abuse during the Congo outbreak.

Balazs Ujvari, a spokesman for the European Commission, said it would "thoroughly monitor the investigations" by the AP.

Ujvari said the Commission is ready to review or suspend funding "for any partner who is not living up to the required high ethical and professional rules and standards." Last year, the European Commission gave the WHO around €114 million.

The UK ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva has also commented on the allegations.

"The UK has a zero tolerance approach when it comes to sexual exploitation and harassment - and that extends to all international organizations that we fund,'' said Simon Manley.

"We are speaking with WHO and other major donors as a matter of urgency to establish the facts."

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the agency's third-largest funder, said it expects UN organisations to conduct thorough investigations into sexual abuse as quickly as possible.

Clare Wenham, an assistant professor of global health policy at the London School of Economics, said it was "alarming" that the WHO was not commenting on the reports.

"There's a lot of talk about giving WHO more money but I don't think any government should be committing to that until we know it's an organization we can trust."