Ebola responders face abuse allegations, COVID-19 vaccine funding, and Amnesty's battle with India: This week in development

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A doctor walks past the decontamination room at an Ebola treatment center in Beni, Congo. Photo by: World Bank / Vincent Tremeau / CC BY-NC-ND

Sexual abuse allegations plague the Ebola response, the World Bank proposes $12 billion for COVID-19 vaccine access, and U.S. lawmakers back global pandemic funding. This week in development:

More than 50 women have come forward with stories of abuse and exploitation at the hands of Ebola virus responders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in an investigation from The New Humanitarian and the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The reports implicate employees of the World Health Organization, UNICEF, Oxfam, Médecins Sans Frontières, World Vision, The Alliance for International Medical Action, and the International Organization for Migration, and they suggest a failing of safeguarding and reporting policies among agencies involved in the 2018-2020 outbreak. Women interviewed for the story described multiple incidents of relief workers demanding sex in exchange for job opportunities — or denying employment when women refused their advances. Many of the organizations involved in the complex outbreak response effort told the news outlets they had received no complaints of sexual abuse through their reporting channels, despite evidence that community members in towns where the response effort operated understood sexual exploitation to be a widespread phenomenon. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has called for the allegations to be “investigated fully,” and organizations such as World Vision have launched internal inquiries.

World Bank President David Malpass announced plans for a $12 billion vaccine access initiative for low- and middle-income countries at a United Nations General Assembly side event Wednesday. The $12 billion in “fast-track financing” would support “the purchase and deployment of COVID-19 vaccines once the vaccines have been approved by several highly respected, stringent regulatory agencies,” Malpass said. He added that the financing would be “an important part” of the bank’s earlier pledge to make $160 billion in grants and financial support available to its client countries over a 15-month period. “This is a market signal to the manufacturers that there will be financing available for the developing countries and there will be demand. We will begin asking the manufacturers to begin creating allocations for these countries,” Malpass told Reuters ahead of the announcement. Civil society groups welcomed the World Bank’s concern over vaccine availability for low-income countries but said access efforts must go further by challenging pharmaceutical industry practices. “The best way of ensuring universal access is for pharmaceutical companies to stop seeking monopolies on their treatments. This only limits production and drives up prices,” Anna Marriott, health policy adviser at Oxfam, said in a statement. Oxfam has joined with other organizations to create the People’s Vaccine Alliance, a coalition aimed at ensuring a COVID-19 vaccine is treated as a global public good with free access for those who need it.

The U.S. House of Representatives released a revised COVID-19 funding bill that includes more than $9 billion for the global response to the pandemic, a notable shift from the original version of the Heroes Act, which passed the House in May and did not include any global funding. The bill includes $3.5 billion for both Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, as well as nearly $1 billion for the U.N. COVID-19 response plan, which would go to the World Food Programme and UNICEF. It is still well short of the $20 billion that advocates were pushing Congress to approve, and it is still unclear whether this bill might become law as Congress and the presidential administration attempt last-minute negotiations.

Amnesty International has been forced to halt its operations in India, due to what it described as a “witch hunt” by the government in response to critical reports about human rights violations in the country. The organization’s decision comes after it saw its bank accounts frozen, days after the Indian government tightened its laws related to foreign funding for international organizations. "We are facing a rather unprecedented situation in India. Amnesty International India has been facing an onslaught of attacks, bullying and harassment by the government in a very systematic manner,” Rajat Khosla, Amnesty's senior director of research, advocacy, and policy, told the BBC. In a statement, the government called the accusations "unfortunate, exaggerated and far from the truth.”

About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.