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Japan to Watch WHO Probe of Abuse      01/28 06:07

   

   TOKYO (AP) -- Japan's government said Friday it will watch the World Health 
Organization's investigation into staff complaints over racism and abuse by a 
top Japanese official at the agency but denied it inappropriately received 
sensitive vaccine information from him.

   WHO staffers have alleged that Dr. Takeshi Kasai, the U.N. health agency's 
top director in the Western Pacific, engaged in unethical, racist and abusive 
behavior, undermining their efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic, according 
to an internal complaint filed last October.

   The complaints were also emailed to senior WHO leaders last week and 
describe a "toxic atmosphere" with "a culture of systemic bullying" at WHO's 
regional headquarters in the Philippines. Recordings obtained by The Associated 
Press also showed that Kasai, who heads a vast region that includes China and 
Japan, made derogatory remarks to his staff during meetings based on 
nationality.

   Kasai denied the allegations.

   Koichiro Matsumoto, deputy Cabinet secretary for public affairs at Japan's 
Prime Minister's Office, told the AP on Friday the government understands the 
WHO is taking appropriate steps and that Japan plans to carefully watch the WHO 
investigation.

   Matsumoto denied that the Japanese government inappropriately received 
sensitive vaccine information from Kasai that he allegedly obtained by abusing 
his position.

   "There is no truth (to the allegation) that the Japanese government 
inappropriately accepted sensitive information related to our vaccine 
contributions," he said.

   He said Japan takes seriously the importance of maintaining equal and fair 
access to safe, effective and high-quality vaccines for all countries and 
regions, and that the Japanese government has been providing support through 
cooperation with COVAX, a U.N.-backed cooperative program formed to make sure 
low- and middle-income countries have fair access to COVID-19 vaccines.

   Since June 2021, Japan has provided 42 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine -- 
17.6 million doses through COVAX and 24.6 doses via bilateral deals.

   Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said Friday he had been unaware of the 
allegations against Kasai before reading media reports and would seek a 
briefing from the WHO.

   He suggested the WHO's internal processes for examining such significant 
allegations would benefit from some kind of external oversight.

   "We will be asking the WHO for independent advice as to the nature and 
response to these claims," Hunt said.

   In Geneva, Britain's ambassador to the U.N. Simon Manley said there was no 
place for discrimination at WHO and that the U.K. expected WHO to "investigate 
robustly all allegations of misconduct" and to support those affected.

   "We will therefore monitor closely WHO's response to these reports and 
continue to hold it to the highest ethical standards," Manley said.

   The racism and abuse claims add to a litany of internal protests from WHO 
personnel about the agency's management of the pandemic during the last two 
years, including privately complaining about China's delayed sharing of 
information while publicly praising the government.

   The WHO has dealt with internal complaints from staffers alleging systemic 
racism, sexism and other problems before. Its Director-General Tedros Adhanom 
Ghebreyesus ordered an internal probe in January 2019 to assess such 
allegations. Last year, the AP reported that senior WHO management was informed 
of multiple sexual abuse reports involving its own staffers during the Ebola 
outbreak in Congo, but failed to act.

   WHO staffers said they took their complaints directly to Australia's 
government to ask for help because the Australian government is regarded as one 
of the most influential WHO member countries in the region.

   Last October, the director of Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and 
Trade advised one of the WHO staffers in an email to submit their complaints to 
WHO's integrity hotline.

   The official said Australia would "raise the complaints directly through our 
regular channels with senior leaders in WHO ... and seek assurances they will 
address and take quick and responsive action," according to the email obtained 
by the AP.

   WHO staffers said they have not been informed of any investigation into 
their numerous allegations since.

   Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign 
Relations, said the issues at WHO "highlight internal governance and management 
problems in the institution."

   Huang said WHO's Geneva headquarters does not have close enough oversight 
over its regional offices, leaving major accountability problems.

   "Political and bureaucratic problems have undermined the WHO's ability to 
effectively address major global health challenges, such as COVID-19," Huang 
said in an email.

 
 
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