Remarks by the Director-General of WHO during the quarterly PRSEAH briefing with Member States – 15 September 2022


Excellencies, dear colleagues and friends,

Thank you for taking the time to attend this third quarterly Member State briefing on preventing and responding to sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment.

Almost a year ago, the Independent Commission released its report into allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse during WHO’s response to the 10th Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The findings and testimonies of victims and survivors have had a profound impact on me personally, on my colleagues and on our Organization.

I said then, and have said it many times since, that the WHO has zero tolerance for sexual misconduct and for inaction against it.

For us, it was much more than a slogan.

A few days after receiving the report from the Independent Commission, I appointed Dr. Gaya Gamhewage to lead our response, reporting directly to me.

She immediately set out to consult with leaders and staff across the organization and to seek the advice of our Member States.

In October, we launched our management response plan, which is WHO’s unified framework for preventing and responding to all types of sexual misconduct.

In a few moments, Gaya and her team will update you on our progress so far and outline our remaining tasks for the remainder of this year.

Before I begin, I would like to highlight three key questions:

The first is the audit of sexual misconduct complaints, which was one of the action items in the management response plan.

As you may recall, I asked the Independent Expert Advisory Board to oversee an audit by an external provider.

The IEOAC selected PriceWaterhouseCoopers, which audited the investigation and handling of allegations of sexual misconduct by the Office of Internal Oversight Services – IOS – and the Office of Compliance, Risk and Ethics – CRE.

The audit assessed WHO’s progress against international benchmarks from MOPAN, the Multilateral Organization Performance Assessment Network.

The findings of the report will be presented to you today, and the report will be made available through our usual channels.

All audit recommendations will be incorporated into the management response plan, which is publicly available.

WHO welcomes the report and its findings, which align closely with those of the Independent Commission and the WHO management response plan.

We are committed to implementing the recommendations of the audit. Our goal is to achieve the MOPAN indicators for preventing and responding to sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment within three years.

Several of the recommendations are already being implemented, and the audit provides guidance for other areas of focus, building on the actions we have already taken.

The audit highlights the need for urgent reform of IOS’s mandate and functions, as well as the need for greater culture change and protection against retaliation.

Our priority is to approve a new structure for IOS by mid-October and implement these changes by January 2023.

We will follow up by adjusting the roles and structures of other line departments.

In the meantime, we have just selected a new Head of Investigations at the P6 level this week.

These actions will help implement the end-to-end incident management system we have developed for sexual misconduct allegations, based on a meaningful victim-survivor-centered approach.

The implementation of the audit recommendations will be integrated into the WHO management response plan and will be monitored by the IEOAC.

Some of the recommendations – for example, culture change – will take longer to implement and will be incorporated into the three-year strategy which will come into effect in January next year.

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The second key question is the state of investigations and mismanagement during the 10th Ebola outbreak in the DRC.

As you know, the WHO transmitted all information relating to the DRC allegations to the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services last December.

They aim to send us their final reports by the end of this year.

They informed us that victims and survivors are referred to the competent services.

At the same time, our services to victims and survivors in the DRC continue, with services provided to 53 survivors and 5 children, so far.

At least 10 survivors have so far accepted help in pursuing legal action in local courts, under a WHO-funded project with a women-led legal aid NGO.

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Finally, we have made significant progress in the broader execution of our management response plan.

Ten months into the implementation, we have completed 38% of our tasks and 59% are in progress.

We are making progress on the three pillars of the plan:

Shift to a victim-survivor-centered approach;

Provide training and put in place accountability mechanisms for all our staff;

And reform our structures, our systems and our culture.

My team will describe in more detail the main achievements to date and the challenges ahead.

The next three months will be a critical time as we work to fully implement the management response plan and transition to the three-year strategy.

Indeed, 30 regional focal points are in Geneva this week to develop this three-year strategy.

The changes we want are complex, but essential to maintaining the trust of the communities we serve, our staff and our Member States.

I and the entire WHO senior leadership are fully committed to reforming and improving our systems for preventing and responding to sexual misconduct of any type.

Your continued guidance and support is essential to achieving these goals. As always, we look forward to your comments and questions.

I thank you.

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