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UNAIDS Nigeria director on administrative leave over sexual harassment allegation

The United Nations Agency for HIV and Aids (UNAIDS) has placed its Nigeria Country Director on administrative leave after receiving allegations of sexual harassment, its spokesperson announced on Thursday according to a Reuters report.

Sophie Barton-Knott, who made the announcement, declined revealing the name of the person put on leave and said she was not at liberty to comment on individual cases.

“It was an administrative leave while the (Nigeria) case is being looked into,” she explained.

“The cases have been referred to the World Health Organization’s Office of Internal Oversight, which looks into such matters for the smaller agency,” she said.

Peter Ghys, director of strategic information and evaluation department at UNAIDS, said that an acting head of its Nigeria programme had been appointed.

“So I think there will be continuity. Of course, as you say, Nigeria is an important country, lots of things are going in that country and it is a big part of the epidemic – actually the biggest part of the epidemic for West and Central Africa,” he said.

“We have put in place an open platform to report cases, and that includes a hotline,” he added.

Forty allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse were made during the last quarter of 2017 against U.N. peacekeeping missions, agencies, funds and programmes, as well as partners, the United Nations website, reveals.

In September, an ee-health publication revealed that Erasmus Morah, then Nigeria Country Director of UNAIDS was placed on special leave after he was accused by Vuyiseka Dubula, currently director of African Center for HIV and Aids Management, Stellenbosch University in South Africa for inappropriate behavior towards her while she worked with UNAIDS, during his spell as UNAIDS Country director South Africa.

Though, Erasmus Morah, the Canadian citizen of Nigerian origin threatened Dubula with legal action for defamation. The lawyers’ letter called on Dubula to publish a retraction of her comments on the accusations leveled against him on her Facebook page and on the Health-e News website where the story was first published, and to make a copy available to the dean of her faculty at the University of Stellenbosch.

The timing of Morah’s letter was particularly awkward for UNAIDS, which recently set up an Independent Expert Panel to probe a number of claims of sexual harassment.

The special leave was issued because as an official of UNAIDS, he could not take independent legal action without the consent of UNAIDS according to reports.

The United Nations has tried to increase transparency and strengthen how it deals with such accusations in recent years after a series of sexual exploitation and abuse charges were made against U.N. peacekeepers in Central African Republic.

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