After last year’s Associated Press revelation that scores of staff colleagues accused him of racist, abusive, and unethical conduct that may have hampered the U.N. health agency’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, the World Health Organization removed its top officer in the Western Pacific.
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WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus informed staff in an email on Wednesday that Dr. Takeshi Kasai’s appointment had been “terminated” due to “findings of wrongdoing” uncovered after an internal inquiry.
Nevertheless, Tedros did not use Kasai’s given name, instead referring to him by his job position as Western Pacific regional director. This is the very first time a regional director has ever been fired from the World Health Organization. Everyone of us have gone through something really new and difficult,” Tedros stated. Next month, he added, voting will begin for a new Western Pacific regional director, and the new director would be installed in October. No response was made by the Japanese government, which had approved Kasai’s nomination. Kasai has previously rejected any history of racism or abuse at work, claiming that his high expectations for his employees “should not result in individuals feeling mistreated”
Last week in Geneva, during a meeting of the WHO‘s executive board, a summary of the inquiry revealed that Kasai had engaged in “aggressive communication,” “public humiliation,” and “racial insults” against his Asian staff on a daily basis. The highest governing body was informed by senior directors that Kasai had created a “toxic culture,” that employees feared reprisal for speaking out against him, and that there was a “loss of confidence” inside the agency.
According to an Associated Press report from January 2022, Kasai was removed from his position as head of WHO after more than 30 anonymous employees wrote a formal complaint letter against him to WHO’s top brass and executive committee members.The emergence of Covid-19 in certain Pacific nations was blamed on their “lack of ability owing to their inferior culture, race, and socioeconomic level,” according to documents and audio indicating Kasai made racist statements to his employees.
What others said?
Some of Kasai’s subordinates have accused him of leaking confidential information about the Covid vaccine in order to assist his home country of Japan gain political advantage via strategic contributions. Dr. Kasai is a Japanese national who practised medicine in his own country’s public health system for almost 15 years before joining WHO. Within a few days after the AP article, WHO director Tedros said that an investigation into the Kasai incident had started internally. In an email sent to employees in August, Tedros said that Kasai was “on leave” and that another high-ranking official had been sent to fill in while he was gone.
In sharp contrast to the willingness to terminate such a high-ranking employee, WHO has been reluctant to sanction other perpetrators of abusive and often unlawful conduct, including sexual abuse and exploitation, during the 2018-2020 Ebola pandemic in Congo.
An Associated Press investigation discovered that top WHO management knew about several exploitation accusations in 2019, but did nothing to address them and even promoted one of the managers implicated in the mistreatment of vulnerable women while responding to an epidemic.
An independent panel of experts called the conclusion of a recent internal U.N. assessment that the agency’s reaction to one example of suspected exploitation did not break the guidelines because of a gap in how WHO defines victims “absurd.” Despite Tedros’ claims that there is “zero tolerance” for wrongdoing at the WHO, no high-ranking employees have been removed in connection with the sexual assault in Congo. The survivors of sexual assault and exploitation in (Congo) are still waiting for justice; the WHO must make them feel valued.
The Associated Press (AP) reported in January that a WHO doctor who hoped to succeed Kasai as regional director in the Western Pacific had been accused of sexual misconduct in the past. Internal WHO records revealed that high-level officials were aware of sexual harassment allegations made against Fijian physician Temo Waqanivalu, who was also accused of assaulting a woman during a conference in Berlin.
Waqanivalu was planning to run for regional director with the backing of his own nation and some of his WHO coworkers. Center for Global Development’s Javier Guzman said the World Health Organization (WHO) still lacked a strong internal judicial system. Decisions in high-profile cases like the Dr. Kasai case are “not enough,” Guzman added. For the “zero-tolerance approach” to be effective, “WHO and Dr. Tedros need do better.”