(FILE PHOTO) Top international health experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) (from L) Takeshi Kasai, Zhou Weigong and Paul Cox gather at the control room of the WHO headquarters in Manila, 02 April 2007, where a team of experts monitor a simulated outbreak of a bird flu pandemic in Cambodia. The rapid containment exercise, Panstop 2007, involves a mock scenario in which a strain of bird flu with the potential for a human pandemic is discovered in a village in Cambodia. The WHO says there have been 281 cases of bird flu infection among humans and 169 deaths worldwide, mostly in Southeast Asia. Scientists fear the H5N1 bird flu strain could mutate into a form easily spread among humans, leading to a global pandemic with the potential to kill millions. AFP PHOTO/ROMEO GACAD (Photo by ROMEO GACAD / AFP)
GENEVA, Switzerland (AFP) – The WHO said Tuesday it had sent its number two to step in for its Western Pacific chief, who has been accused by staff of abusive, racist and authoritarian behaviour.
The World Health Organization has dispatched Deputy Director General Zsuzsanna Jakab from its Geneva global headquarters to temporarily replace Japanese doctor Takeshi Kasai at the regional office in Manila.
A slew of accusations against Kasai emerged in January from staff past and present.
Kasai, who denied the allegations, was accused of presiding over a “toxic atmosphere” at the WHO’s Western Pacific headquarters with a culture of “systemic bullying and public ridiculing”.
The staff, who wished to remain anonymous “for fear of retaliation”, accused him of making “derogatory remarks to staff of certain nationalities”, in particular local Filipinos.
“The regional director for the Western Pacific region, Dr Takeshi Kasai, is on leave,” the WHO said Tuesday.
“During the regional director’s absence, the WHO’s Deputy Director General Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab will ensure business continuity,” the UN health agency told AFP, confirming a report by the Associated Press news agency.
Headquartered in the Philippines’ capital Manila, the WHO’s Western Pacific region covers almost 1.9 billion people across 37 territories.
Appointed by the WHO executive board, Kasai has been in the post since February 2019. He was previously the region’s number two and has worked for the WHO for more than 15 years.
Jakab is the second in command at the WHO in Geneva behind director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The Hungarian public health administrator previously ran the WHO’s European regional office from 2010 to 2019, and before that the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
– WHO no.2 en route –
Jakab was due to arrive in Manila on Tuesday or Wednesday to temporarily take over Kasai’s duties, a source told AFP.
“She is there to ensure continuity,” the source said.
The investigation into Kasai is still “in progress”, the source added.
In mid-January, former and current staff sent an email to member states on the WHO’s 34-country executive board.
In the email, seen by AFP, the staff accused Kasai of “abusive and racist authoritarian leadership”.
They also accused him of mismanaging the Covid-19 pandemic and wasteful spending of donor contributions; abusing his power to secure his re-election; and nepotistic staff recruitment.
They requested “urgent intervention” by the board’s member states to address their concerns.
In a document sent to the WHO at the time, 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 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 that he regularly gave Japan confidential data on Covid-19 vaccination needs in other regional member states, so that Tokyo could benefit in the diplomatic donation of doses.
© Agence France-Presse