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WHO hit by racism claims against Western Pacific head

Japanese doctor Takeshi Kasai is accused of harming WHO’s ability to fight Covid-19 pandemic



Takeshi Kasai has been Western Pacific regional director of WHO since 2019. – Twitter
Takeshi Kasai has been Western Pacific regional director of WHO since 2019. – Twitter

By AFP

Published: Thu 27 Jan 2022, 10:43 PM

The World Health Organization vowed to take action Thursday following a slew of allegations from staff past and present against its Western Pacific regional director, including racist, abusive and authoritarian behaviour.

Japanese doctor Takeshi Kasai is accused of harming the WHO’s ability to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

“WHO is aware of the allegations and is taking all appropriate steps to follow up on the matter,” the organisation’s global headquarters in Geneva told AFP, without elaborating.

Earlier Thursday, the Associated Press news agency published an investigation indicating that dozens of WHO staff filed an internal complaint in October.

They then sent an email in mid-January to members of the WHO’s executive board, meeting in Geneva this week.

In the email, seen by AFP, they accused Kasai of “abusive and racist authoritarian leadership”.

They also accused him of mismanaging the pandemic and wasteful spending of donor contributions; abusing his power to secure his re-election; and nepotistic staff recruitment.

They requested “urgent intervention” by member states to address their concerns.

Headquartered in the Philippines’ capital Manila, the WHO’s Western Pacific region covers almost 1.9 billion people across 37 territories, including China, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand.

Kasai has been in the post since February 2019. The WHO executive board appointed him. He was previously the region’s number two and has worked for the WHO for more than 15 years.

In a document sent to the WHO, seen by AFP, Kasai denied the allegations and said he would cooperate fully with any investigation.

“I take the concerns raised about my management style and working culture in WHO’s Western Pacific Region very seriously,” he said.

“I ask a lot of myself, and our staff. This has particularly been the case during the Covid-19 response. But it should not result in people feeling disrespected.

“I am treating the concerns raised with the utmost gravity, and I’m committed to making changes that will ensure a positive work environment for all of the WHO workforce in our region.”

He rejected the accusation of racism.

“It is true that I have been hard on staff, but I reject the suggestion that I have targeted staff of any particular nationality,” he insisted.

Kasai also disputed allegations of having shared confidential information about Covid-19 vaccination with Japan.

“I am ready to cooperate fully with any process to investigate the concerns which have been raised,” he said.

Britain’s ambassador in Geneva urged the WHO to conduct a thorough probe into the claims.

“There is no place for racism or discrimination in the WHO or in any of our partners,” Simon Manley said in a statement.

“We expect the WHO to investigate robustly all allegations of misconduct and to provide support to those affected. We will therefore monitor closely WHO’s response to these reports and continue to hold it to the highest ethical standards.”


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