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27 Jan, 2022 19:33

WHO regional boss accused of racism – AP

Whistleblowers at the health body’s Manila HQ allege that the regional director made “derogatory comments” based on the nationality of staffers
WHO regional boss accused of racism – AP

World Health Organization (WHO) staffers have reportedly accused the agency’s top director in the Western Pacific of undermining the agency’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic by creating a “toxic atmosphere” rife with racist language and “systemic bullying” at its Manila headquarters.

In an internal email reportedly sent to senior WHO leadership last week, employees alleged that the director, Takeshi Kasai, had allowed a “culture of systemic bullying and public ridiculing” to develop at the office. The Associated Press reported that the mail included “recorded snippets of meetings” where Kasai is “heard making derogatory comments about staff based on nationality.”

In one instance, described in the complaint, Kasai is alleged to have “aggressively questioned” an employee on whether she was “incapable of delivering good presentations because she was Filipina.” Staff also alleged that Kasai attributed the rise in Covid cases in some Pacific nations to a “lack of capacity due to their inferior culture, race, and socioeconomic level.”

Kasai has denied the allegations, telling the AP that he asks “a lot of myself, and our staff … but it should not result in people feeling disrespected.” While accepting that he had been “hard” on employees, he rejected having “targeted staff of any particular nationality.”

He also reportedly expressed his commitment to “a positive work environment.” 

An unnamed WHO scientist told the AP that Kasai had helped Japan decide how to donate vaccines to its neighbors – and score a political advantage. The scientist reportedly added that Kasai had also pressured WHO staff to prioritize donated vaccines from his home country over the UN-backed COVAX initiative. Kasai has rejected both allegations.

Although the staffers claimed they had “exhaustively” filed complaints through various UN oversight mechanisms, they said that to their knowledge no inquiry had begun. The WHO told the AP that it was “taking all appropriate steps to follow up on the matter.” Kasai has promised to “cooperate fully” with any inquiry into the staff's concerns.