The World Health Organization (WHO) has fired one of its senior doctors after a British medic accused him of groping her at a conference in an incident that left her feeling like a "piece of meat."
Temo Waqanivalu, a Fijian doctor who headed a unit on noncommunicable 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.
The health organization did not provide any further details about its findings but it 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.
Dr. James Tweeted About the Incident Last Tear
At the time, the British-Canadian physician reported the incident publicly without naming Waqanivalu. She tweeted on Oct. 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 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 a Jan interview. 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.
"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 Telegraphat the time. "Then later, when I was back in my hotel room, I was angry more than anything... that's when I tweeted impulsively."
Three Separate Sexual Misconduct Accusations Against Waqanivalu
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.
Waqanivalu had also been accused of similar sexual misconduct in 2018.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.
And the 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.