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WHO staff complaint, email allege racism and abuse in Asia

AP – Current and former staffers have accused the top director of the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Western Pacific of racist, unethical and abusive behaviour that has undermined the United Nations (UN) health agency’s efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic.

The allegations were laid out in an internal complaint filed in October and again in an email last week, sent by unidentified “concerned WHO staff” to senior leadership and the executive board and obtained by the Associated Press (AP). Two of the authors said more than 30 staffers were involved in writing it, and that it reflected the experiences of more than 50 people.

The internal complaint and the email describe a “toxic atmosphere” with “a culture of systemic bullying and public ridiculing” at WHO’s Western Pacific headquarters in Manila, led by Dr Takeshi Kasai, director of a vast region that includes China and his home country of Japan. The AP also has obtained recorded snippets of meetings where Kasai is heard making derogatory remarks about his staff based on nationality. Eleven former or current WHO staffers who worked for Kasai told the AP he frequently used racist language.

Staffers, who did not identify themselves to WHO “for fear of retaliation”, said in the email that Kasai’s authoritarian style has led to the departure of more than 55 key staff in the past year and a half, most of whom have not been replaced.

This resulted in a lack of understanding and involvement with member countries that “significantly contributed” to a surge of cases in many countries in the region, they said.

However, other WHO staffers pointed out that spikes in COVID cases were due to numerous reasons, including countries’ own resources and the timing of their national efforts.

WHO Regional Director for Western Pacific Takeshi Kasai. PHOTO: AP