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Senior WHO official fired over sexual misconduct

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The World Health Organization said Monday it had dismissed a senior official over “findings of sexual misconduct” following at least three reported accusations against him in recent years.

The Fijian doctor “Temo Waqanivalu has been dismissed from WHO following findings of sexual misconduct against him and corresponding disciplinary process,” spokeswoman Marcia Poole told AFP in an email.

The UN health agency, which has been working to improve its record on tackling sexual misconduct and abuse allegations, did not provide more details about its findings.

But media have reported that the top official in WHO’s non-communicable diseases division stands accused of at least three different instances of alleged sexual misconduct since 2017.

The Associated Press in January named him as the suspected perpetrator in a widely publicized case of alleged sexual assault during the World Health Summit in Berlin last October.

A young British doctor, Rosie James, tweeted at the time that she “was sexually assaulted by a WHO staff” member at the meeting, eliciting vows from the UN health agency to investigate.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus himself responded to her tweet, saying he was “horrified” by the accusations and offering his personal assistance, stressing the agency has “zero tolerance for sexual assault”.

The AP also reported that Waqanivalu had been accused of similar sexual misconduct in 2018, with little consequence for his career.

And the Financial Times earlier this month said it had unearthed a third accusation against him, dating back to an event in 2017.

The WHO did not immediately respond to a request to confirm these details.

In her email, Poole stressed that “sexual misconduct of any kind by anyone working for WHO – be it as staff, consultant, partner – is unacceptable.”

She pointed out that over the past year and a half, “WHO has been implementing a comprehensive program of reform across the entire organization 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,” she said.

“All cases will be reviewed promptly.”

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