LONDON, (The Southern African Times) – Nearly two dozen women in DR Congo have come forward with allegations of sexual abuse by aid workers during an Ebola outbreak, adding to a scandal that broke last year, a report said on Wednesday.
Twenty-two women have said they were sexually exploited or abused, in acts that included alleged rape or led to unwanted pregnancies, by male aid workers responding to an Ebola crisis in eastern DR Congo, The New Humanitarian (TNH) and the Thomson Reuters Foundation said.
The men offered them jobs in exchange for sex, identifying themselves as working for major aid organisations.
Three of the seven organisations named are UN agencies, led by the World Health Organization (WHO), which features in 14 of the claims.
The allegations centre on Butembo, a major trading city and an epicentre of the 2018-2020 outbreak of Ebola that claimed 2,200 lives.
“One woman said she was raped by a man who said he was with the WHO, and reporters learned of three others who said they had become pregnant,” the investigators said.
“One of those women died after a botched abortion as she tried to conceal the pregnancy from her husband and children, her sister said.”
The gruelling fight to roll back the Ebola epidemic, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s worst ever, has been tarred by allegations of sexual abuse by well-paid aid workers who flooded into the poor region.
An investigation last year by the TNH, a news agency that covers humanitarian crises, gathered testimony from 51 women who said they had suffered sexual exploitation in the neighbouring city of Beni.
The WHO, reacting to the latest accusations, said Wednesday it had identified two women in Butembo as “potentially having had sexually exploitative relationships with individuals” connected to the agency.
That information will be shared with an independent investigative commission set up last October, it said.
“(The) WHO is committed to taking prompt and robust action, including collaborating with relevant national authorities on criminal proceedings, in all cases where WHO staff may be found guilty of perpetrating (sexual exploitation and abuse),” the agency’s spokeswoman Marcia Poole said.
The new report said sexual predators also claimed to work for the UN’s International Organization for Migration; the UN’s children’s fund, Unicef; the International Rescue Committee (IRC); International Medical Corps (IMC); the Alliance for International Medical Action (ALIMA); and DRC’s health ministry.
Most of the aid workers allegedly involved were Congolese, the report said.
A spokeswoman for the independent commission said the panel aimed to publish the results of its inquiry at the end of August.