Ian Patrick, FISM News
In an update to a story previously covered on FISM News, the World Health Organization has taken action against one of its regional directors following serious allegations of racism and abuse.
Dr. Takeshi Kasai, the WHO’s Regional Director for the Western Pacific, has been placed on an indefinite leave according to Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Deputy Director-General Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab will be assuming the responsibilities for the time being.
While the notice from Ghebreyesus was not specifically in-depth on the reasoning for Dr. Kasai’s sudden departure, two anonymous senior WHO officials said that it is a direct result of an investigation that substantiated some of the claims of racism and abuse.
Dr. Kasai has worked in the WHO for more than 15 years and was appointed to his most recent position of regional director in February 2019.
According to his biography on the WHO website, Dr. Kasai “was instrumental in developing and implementing the Asia Pacific Strategy for Emerging Diseases and Public Health Emergencies, which guides Member States in preparing for and responding to public health emergencies.”
Back in January of this year, an AP investigation revealed accusations of racism, abuse, and other misconduct levied against Kasai from WHO staff. Dozens of staff sent a confidential complaint to senior WHO leaders saying that Kasai created a “toxic atmosphere” across Western Pacific offices.
Some of the complaints allege that Kasai partially blamed the COVID-19 pandemic on certain Pacific countries and their “lack of capacity due to their inferior culture, race, and socioeconomics level.” Others complained that he carried an authoritarian and abusive tone that led 55 people to quit under his leadership with no replacements during the pandemic.
Some also said he shared sensitive information on the vaccination effort with his home country of Japan to help it know which countries needed vaccine donations most. His supposed intention in sharing this data was to help Japan look good and gain political leverage.
Shortly after this report dropped, Ghebreyesus announced an internal probe into Kasai and the situation as a whole. Staffers alleged that Kasai was attempting to disrupt the probe by ordering managers to destroy certain documents and monitor all email communications.
The current action taken against Kasai by putting him on leave is still seen as “unprecedented” according to Lawrence Gostin, director of the WHO Collaborating Center on Public Health Law and Human Rights at Georgetown University.
In a meeting in June, WHO’s staff association urged Ghebreyesus to take action against Dr. Kasai. The association said any lack of disciplinary action “may be regarded as questionable at best, fixed and farcical at worst” if his wrongdoing is proven.
However, Gostin recognizes that the WHO’s authority and “reputation” were shattered by previous allegations of rampant sexual abuse during the Ebola outbreak in the Congo from 2018 to 2020.
In late September, an independent commission released a report detailing allegations of widespread sexual abuse from WHO staffers during this time period. The report, citing about 75 alleged victims, says that the abuse was often perpetuated as a favor to secure or keep jobs in the WHO.
Ghebreyesus described the report as a “harrowing read.” Later, the WHO released a multi-level plan aimed at addressing the situation, much of which included supporting the victims and continuing investigations to identify the perpetrators. However, the AP notes that no senior WHO staffers who have been linked to the abuse have been fired yet.