/ 9 October 2021

Aid workers abuse 50 DRC women

Drcongo Epidemic Health Ebola
‘Harrowing’: Health workers at the Doctors Without Borders Ebola centre in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The organisation is investigating claims of women being abused. (John Wessels/AFP)

At least 80 aid workers responding to the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) sexually exploited and abused women, according to the findings of a commission established last year after an investigation by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and the New Humanitarian.

Twenty-one of the 83 worked for the World Health Organisation (WHO).

About 50 women claimed to have been coerced into sex in return for work. The incidents took place during the 2018 to 2020 Ebola outbreak in the country.

The abuse happened at United Nations organisations such as the WHO, the UN Children’s Fund and the International Organisation for Migration. It also took place at aid organisations such as Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam, World Vision and the Alliance for International Medical Action. The latter groups said they either had investigated or would investigate, the claims.

The abused were either promised jobs or promised that they would keep their jobs. People had lost their jobs because they rebuffed the offers.

The commission found in its 35-page report that many of the men perpetrating the abuse refused to use condoms. Consequently, 29 women were impregnated, with the perpetrators forcing some to have abortions. 

Where the names are known, the offenders have been banned from working for the WHO, and four have had their contracts terminated, according to the health body. It said cases would be referred to the DRC and countries that had sent aid workers so that they could decide what action to take.

The WHO’s director general, Tedros Ghebreyesus, said the report made for “harrowing reading”.

“I’m sorry for what was done to you by people who are employed by the WHO to serve and protect you. It is my top priority that the perpetrators are not excused, but held to account.”

The Ebola outbreak, which ended last year, killed 2 200 people. 

This article first appeared in The Continent, the pan-African weekly newspaper on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here