WHO Fires Doctor After British Medic, 26, Accused Him Of Groping Her At Conference Party


The World Health Organization has fired one of its senior doctors after a British medic accused him of groping her at a conference.

Temo Waqanivalu, a Fijian doctor who headed a unit on non-communicable diseases at the global health agency's Geneva headquarters, was dismissed today - six months after Rosie James, 26, accused him of sexually assaulting her at an event in Berlin.


WHO said it had fired Waqanivalu over 'findings of sexual misconduct' against him following at least three reported accusations against the doctor in the past five years.


The UN health agency's decision came six months after Dr. James accused Waqanivalu of groping her buttocks and touching her breasts during networking drinks at the World Health Summit in Berlin in October.


At the time, the British-Canadian physician reported the incident publicly without naming Waqanivalu. She tweeted on October 18 last year: 'I was sexually assaulted by a WHO staff member tonight at the World Health Summit.


This was not the first time in the global health sphere that this has occurred (for MANY of us). I will be reporting it. So disappointing and disheartening. We must do better.'


WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus himself responded to her tweet, saying he was 'horrified' by the accusations and offering his personal assistance, stressing the agency has 'zero tolerance for sexual assault'.


In January, The Associated Press named Waqanivalu as being the medic who Dr. James had accused of sexual assault.

'We were talking about his work at WHO and he just started putting his hand on my bottom and keeping it there,' Dr. James said in January. She said she felt intimidated talking to a senior manager at the organisation.

'I felt this power dynamic and I was really uncomfortable,' she said, explaining that she moved away to join her friends, who told her Waqanivalu's actions were inappropriate.

'Somehow I ended up talking to him again and he was literally holding my bum cheek,' she said. Dr James said Waqanivalu had 'firmly held my buttock in his hand multiple times (and) pressed his groin' into her. She added that he had later touched her breast.

Before Waqanivalu left, she says he cornered her and repeatedly asked for her hotel room number.

'I was very scared and belittled and sexualised,' Dr. James told the Telegraph at the time. 'Then later, when I was back in my hotel room, I was angry more than anything… that's when I tweeted impulsively.'

James was later interviewed by WHO’s investigators. She said WHO officials told her she would not be entitled to see its final investigation report. James also said Tedros never personally followed up directly but said the agency’s communications director contacted her and that the two had lunch during the Berlin conference.

She said WHO also offered to reimburse her for any private therapy costs related to her encounter with Waqanivalu.


Waqanivalu had also been accused of similar sexual misconduct in 2018, with little consequence for his career.


That claim was flagged to senior agency directors and others in 2018, before the accuser was informed that pursuing a formal investigation might not be in her best interests, according to the documents.


A former WHO ombudsman who helped assess the previous allegation against Waqanivalu noted the similarities between the two women's accusations, several years apart, and suggested the agency had missed a chance to root out bad behavior.


Financial Times earlier this month said it had unearthed a third accusation against him involving a junior employee in her mid-twenties, dating back to a networking event in 2017.


Waqanivalu 'categorically' denied that he had ever sexually assaulted anyone, including at the Berlin conference, according to correspondence between him and WHO investigators. He said the accusations were 'false' and could 'irreparably damage' his career and reputation.


The physician said there may have been 'a mutual misunderstanding' in Berlin and that his accuser was possibly 'under the influence of alcohol.' He said he was 'bewildered' and 'confused' by the sexual misconduct allegation.


WHO spokesperson Marcia Poole said today: 'Temo Waqanivalu has been dismissed from WHO following findings of sexual misconduct against him and corresponding disciplinary process.'


Poole stressed that 'sexual misconduct of any kind by anyone working for WHO - be it as staff, consultant, partner - is unacceptable.'


She pointed out that over the past year and a half, 'WHO has been implementing a comprehensive programme of reform across the entire organisation to prevent sexual misconduct and ensure that there is no impunity if it does and no tolerance for inaction.'

'We encourage all those who may have been affected by sexual misconduct to come forward through our confidential reporting mechanisms,' she said.

'All cases will be reviewed promptly.'

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