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The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that it has opened an investigation into sexual exploitation and abuse, promised that any of its staff working as part of the agency’s Ebola response team in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) found to have been involved would face serious consequences, including instant dismissal.

The organization issued the strongly-worded statement on Tuesday in response to allegations made during a months-long investigation by journalists from The New Humanitarian and the Thomson Reuters Foundation news organizations, which charges that men who identified themselves as being with WHO, had been accused of sexual abuse by some 30 women. A total of 51 women, alleged that they had been sexually exploited or abused overall by mostly foreign men, identifying themselves as aid workers in Beni, the main city at the centre of what was the country’s worst ever Ebola outbreak, between 2018 and June this year.

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According to the statement released, WHO said they were outraged by the reports: “The actions allegedly perpetrated by individuals identifying themselves as working for WHO are unacceptable and will be robustly investigated.”

“The betrayal of people in the communities we serve is reprehensible”, the statement continued. “We do not tolerate such behaviour in any of our staff, contractors or partners. Anyone identified as being involved will be held to account and face serious consequences, including immediate dismissal.”

The health agency said that Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has initiated a “thorough review of the specific allegations, as well as broader protection issues in health emergency response settings, emphasizing that as with the UN system as a whole, the WHO has a zero tolerance policy with regards to sexual exploitation and abuse.

In reaction to the alleged sexual exploitation, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Wednesday it was appalled that people who identify as UNICEF workers, have reportedly committed abuse against vulnerable women in the DRC. They agency said its team on the ground was conducting a “thorough assessment of the facts and will be joined by additional colleagues to seek further detailed information about what has happened.

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Over the past two years, we have strengthened our efforts to prevent, and respond to, sexual exploitation and abuse by putting victims first. Our top priorities are to provide victims with assistance, ensure swift and victim-centered investigations; vet and train personnel and partners; and establish safe and accessible reporting channels.”

“However, it is clear that this is not enough. “We need to do more, especially at the community level. We are committed to working closely with communities across DRC to end such abuses and to establish a safe environment for victims to come forward.” the agency said.

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