WHO sacks Western Pacific chief for alleged misconduct

BenarNews staff
WHO sacks Western Pacific chief for alleged misconduct Takeshi Kasai, the World Health Organization’s regional director for the Western Pacific, addresses the media at the start of a five-day annual session in Manila, Oct. 7, 2019.
Bullit Marquez/AP Photo, File

Updated at 10:06 p.m. ET on March 9, 2023

The World Health Organization says it has fired its influential Western Pacific regional head, Dr. Takeshi Kasai, over allegations of misconduct, amid reports of staff having accused him of abusive behavior bordering on racism.

Based in Manila, WHO’s regional office covers almost 1.9 billion people scattered across 37 countries and territories and was very active at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic that ravaged the Philippines and other nations in the region.

Without naming Kasai, WHO said it had received allegations of misconduct during the latter half of 2021 and in 2022. 

“In line with the Organization’s policy of zero tolerance for abusive conduct, the allegations were investigated and subsequently reviewed in accordance with the normal procedures applicable to all WHO staff members,” said the statement issued by WHO late Wednesday.

“After careful consideration of the findings, and following consultation with the Regional Committee for the Western Pacific and the Executive Board, the Regional Director’s appointment has been terminated,” it added.

WHO said that Kasai, a Japanese national, was given the right to respond to all allegations, however, “these procedures resulted in findings of misconduct.”

The firing is a first for the WHO, which has faced accusations of not being transparent about internal misconduct. The decision to let him go followed a two-day special meeting in Geneva of WHO’s 34-country executive board. 

News agencies quoted WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus referring to the firing of Kasai as an unprecedented and challenging journey for all of us.”

Kasai had earlier denied the allegations and rejected the accusation of racism.

“I have been hard on staff, but I reject the suggestion that I have targeted staff of any particular nationality,” Kasai had said. 

Kasai, who started serving as regional director in February 2019, was also the WHO’s representative in Vietnam from 2012 to 2014. He was director of program management, the second highest position at the WHO Western Pacific office.

Dr. Zsuzsana Jakab, who has served as officer-in-charge of the Western Pacific Region since August 2022, will replace Kasai until a new chief takes office this year, WHO said. 

Jakab has served as the agency’s deputy director-general since 2019 apart from working as WHO regional director for Europe.

Earlier this year, a senior U.N. official in New York, Vitaly Vanshelboim, was fired over an investment scandal.

Luiz Loures, former deputy executive director at UNAIDS, was fired in 2019 over sexual assault allegations.

A slew of accusations against Kasai emerged in January 2022, in revelations first published by the Associated Press news agency. An AP investigation indicated that dozens of WHO staff had filed an internal complaint in October 2021.

This report has been updated to clarify information from the statement by the World Health Organization.


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