YAOUNDE, Cameroon

The World Health Organization (WHO) appointed two distinguished female leaders Thursday to investigate claims of sexual abuse and exploitation during a recent Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

An independent commission will be co-chaired by Aichatou Mindaoudou, former minister of foreign affairs and of social development of Niger, and Julienne Lusenge from the DRC, an internationally recognized human rights activist and advocate for survivors of sexual violence in conflict.

The role of the “Independent Commission will be to swiftly establish the facts, identify and support survivors, ensure that any ongoing abuse has stopped, and hold perpetrators to account,” according to the UN health agency. “[The] WHO has a zero tolerance policy with regard to sexual exploitation and abuse. We reiterate our strong commitment to preventing and protecting against sexual exploitation and abuse in all our operations around the world.”

The move was made necessary after more than 50 women last month accused WHO workers and other aid agencies of sexual exploitation and abuse during the 10th Ebola outbreak in the DRC.

A majority of the women said numerous men either propositioned them, forced them to have sex in exchange for a job, or terminated contracts when they refused, according to reports.

The 10th outbreak and the world’s second-largest on record in North Kivu and Ituri provinces was declared June 25, after persisting for nearly two years in an active conflict zone that caused 2,300 deaths.

A total of 128 cases, with 119 confirmed and nine probable, 53 deaths and 69 recoveries have been recorded in an ongoing 11th outbreak, according to the WHO.

Ebola, a tropical fever that first appeared in 1976 in Sudan and the DRC, is transmitted to humans from wild animals.

The disease caused global alarm in 2014, when the world’s worst outbreak began in West Africa, killing more than 11,300, and infecting an estimated 28,600 as it swept through Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

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