Brazilian Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva Maria Nazareth Farani Azevedo with World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Photo by: WHO

MANILA — The World Health Organization’s director-general has addressed allegations of misconduct within the organization, which were sent to WHO directors in anonymous emails.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Thursday that the organization’s Office of Internal Oversight Services’ preliminary review of the allegations made against several members of staff is due by end of the week and that any substantiated allegations will be reported to member states.

According to the Associated Press, the emails contained allegations of racial discrimination, particularly against African staff, and of mismanagement of funds by WHO personnel during the Ebola outbreak in Congo.

“As WHO’s leadership ... we want to know the truth more than anybody,” Tedros said in his report to WHO’s executive board at its 144th session taking place in Geneva, Switzerland, this week.

But he added that due process must be observed. “Let me say very clearly, we are committed to presumption of innocence ... for all staff, and to due process to find the truth,” he said. “That process is based on the principle of protecting the integrity of the investigation and the confidentiality of those involved.”

Tedros said his push for creating an open culture within the organization is meant to prevent such issues from materializing. This includes his open-door policy for staff, which he holds every Thursday if he is in Geneva.

“Some people say this may be a waste of time, but I tell them it’s not,” he said. Hearing and addressing problems raised by staff allows him to see the systemic problem and tackle it, he said.

Several member states commended WHO for initiating the investigation, reminding its leadership that they have “zero tolerance for inaction.”

“We will not judge an organization on allegations necessarily, but on how it deals with them,” said the representative from the Netherlands, who was speaking on behalf of a number of high-income countries, including the United States.

The representative suggested WHO review its systems and processes for preventing all forms of misconduct; to ensure proper checks and balances are in place; and to assess the funding needed to carry these out.

However, some observers have underscored the need for the investigation to be done externally, to ensure it is free from bias or undue influence.

Tedros said he has confidence in WHO’s investigative process but welcomes suggestions for improvements.

As of October 2018, the Office of Internal Oversight Services had received a total of 106 new allegations of wrongdoing at WHO, mostly related to fraud and corruption, compared to the 82 cases it received in 2017.

About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.