WHO Pays Congo Sexual Abuse Victims $250 Each, Reveals Internal Documents

by Michael Nguyen
WHO Congo scandal

Earlier in the year, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) lead doctor for preventing sexual abuse visited Congo to address a significant sex scandal involving the abuse of over 100 local women by staff and others during a fatal Ebola outbreak. An internal WHO report detailed by Dr. Gaya Gamhewage from her March visit revealed a woman who bore a child with special medical needs due to malformation, highlighting the additional financial burden on the mother in one of the world’s most impoverished regions.

To aid victims like her, WHO has compensated at least 104 women in Congo, each receiving $250. These women claim they were sexually abused or exploited by officials working on the Ebola crisis. This sum is notably less than the daily expenses of some U.N. officials in the Congolese capital and slightly more than Gamhewage’s daily allowance during her visit. This amount, as per WHO documents, barely covers living expenses for four months in a country where many survive on less than $2.15 daily.

The payments were not unconditional. Women had to complete training courses aimed at starting “income-generating activities” to qualify for this compensation, an approach seemingly at odds with the U.N.’s stance against paying reparations. This method includes the compensation in a broader “support package.”

Despite these efforts, many victims still await assistance. WHO acknowledged in a confidential document that about a third of the identified victims were untraceable, and nearly a dozen declined the offer. The total of $26,000 provided to the victims is a fraction (about 1%) of the $2 million WHO-established “survivor assistance fund” for victims of sexual misconduct, mainly in Congo.

Victims interviewed expressed that the money was insufficient and sought more than financial compensation; they desired justice. Paula Donovan of the Code Blue campaign criticized the WHO’s approach, highlighting the problematic blending of livelihood support with compensation for sexual crimes. She pointed out that setting preconditions like training for receiving help places an unfair burden on the victims.

Internal documents reveal that the WHO also covered medical costs for 17 children born due to sexual exploitation and abuse. At least one woman negotiated a compensation package with WHO, including land and health care, after being sexually exploited by a WHO doctor. The agreement was structured to maintain WHO’s reputation.

However, many victims feel underserved by WHO’s response. Alphonsine, a 34-year-old who claims she was sexually exploited by a WHO official, received $250 only after completing a baking course. She expressed that the money was helpful but insufficient for her needs, including a desire for land and business start-up funds.

The report details the significant disparity between the compensation given to victims and the expenses of visiting WHO staff in Congo, emphasizing the large portion of WHO’s budget dedicated to staff costs and the relatively smaller allocation for victim support.

The WHO has faced challenges in holding perpetrators accountable in Congo. A WHO-commissioned panel identified at least 83 offenders during the Ebola response, including 21 WHO staff. The youngest victim was 13 years old. An AP investigation in May 2021 revealed that senior WHO management was informed of the sexual exploitation but took little action. No senior managers were dismissed, despite being aware of the abuse.

The WHO has since shared information on 16 alleged perpetrators with Congolese authorities but has faced criticism for inadequate disciplinary measures. Denise, a 31-year-old victim, and others like Audia, a 24-year-old mother, express deep distrust in WHO, citing insufficient follow-up and support.

The WHO has reported the dismissal of five staff members for sexual misconduct since 2021, yet skepticism remains high among victims and observers in Congo.

This report includes contributions from AP journalists Krista Larson and Jamey Keaten.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about WHO Congo scandal

How much compensation did the WHO provide to sexual abuse victims in Congo?

The World Health Organization compensated at least 104 women in Congo, each receiving $250. These women were victims of sexual abuse or exploitation by officials involved in the Ebola crisis response.

What conditions were set by the WHO for victims to receive compensation?

To receive the $250 compensation, the victims were required to complete training courses intended to help them start income-generating activities. This approach was part of what the WHO called a “complete package” of support.

What percentage of the WHO’s survivor assistance fund was used for these payments?

The total of $26,000 provided to the victims represents about 1% of the $2 million allocated to the WHO-created “survivor assistance fund” for victims of sexual misconduct, primarily in Congo.

What criticism has been raised against the WHO’s approach to compensating the victims?

Critics, including Paula Donovan of the Code Blue campaign, have criticized the WHO’s method of combining livelihood support with compensation for sexual crimes, calling it problematic and perverse. They argue that it unfairly burdens the victims by setting preconditions for receiving help.

Has the WHO taken action against its staff involved in sexual misconduct in Congo?

The WHO has reported the dismissal of five staff members for sexual misconduct since 2021. However, there has been criticism and skepticism regarding the adequacy of these disciplinary actions and the overall effort to hold perpetrators accountable.

More about WHO Congo scandal

  • World Health Organization
  • Congo Sexual Abuse Scandal
  • Ebola Outbreak Response
  • WHO Victim Support Fund
  • Code Blue Campaign
  • Sexual Misconduct in Humanitarian Aid
  • U.N. Policies on Sexual Exploitation
  • Accountability in International Organizations
  • Financial Aid for Abuse Victims

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Michael Brown November 14, 2023 - 9:36 am

So sad to read this. these women deserve more, and it’s shocking that senior managers weren’t fired!

Linda Garcia November 14, 2023 - 1:23 pm

This report is eye-opening! can’t believe that the WHO budget is so mismanaged, more funds should go to the victims.

Jane Smith November 14, 2023 - 4:24 pm

i think its terrible that the WHO only gave such a small amount, $250 really isn’t much for these women. how can they justify this?

Tom Wilson November 15, 2023 - 4:57 am

WHO needs to do more, It’s not just about money, but also about justice and holding people accountable, right?


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