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At UN, Unlicensed Doctors Give and Take Valium, Agwai's Wife Moonlights for NGO

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: Exclusive

UNITED NATIONS, April 23, updated May 16 with UN demand that evidence be removed from the public record, and May 26 -- In midtown Manhattan a group of largely unlicensed doctors and nurses are dispensing and in some cases taking and self-medicating with Valium, Diazepam, Demerol, Ambien and other controlled narcotics.

While anywhere else in the U.S. this would be a straight forward felony case, since it is taking place within the United Nations' compound on 42nd Street east of First Avenue, technically international territory, American authorities have yet to take action. The UN's Ethics Office, Ombudsman and Office of Internal Oversight Services have been informed, and even provided with photographs, but have done nothing.

Sources inside the UN have painted for Inner City Press a detailed picture of the operations of the UN Medical Service, housed on the 5th floor of UN headquarters, just above the Press floor. Deputy Director Serguei Oleinikov, these sources say, is both unlicensed and outside of the law. He recently signed off on the “disposal” of dozens of Valium tablets which had yet to reach the expiration date. Click here for a photo of a sample sign-out sheet, and see below. [May 16, 2009 update - evidence removed from public record at demand of UN Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit, see below]

  Tellingly, one of the unlicensed nurses is the wife of the Force Commander of the UN - African Union Hybrid Force in Darfur, Martin Luther Agwai, a Nigerian general. Ruth Martin Agwai, sources and documents say, spends some of her time moonlighting for a non-governmental organization, the Nigerian Army Officers Wives Association (NAOWA). Click here for Mrs. Agwai's letter about NAOWA. In March 2008 a formal complaint was filed with the UN Ethics Office alleging that Ms. Agwai has used the diplomatic pouch and privileges of the Nigerian Mission to the UN in order to spirit out of the country Accutech medical equipment.

Update of May 1, 2009: Inner City Press has received a phone call from Kio [Amieyeofori, apparently] the Nigerian Mission, asserting that while the Mission is entitled under the Vienna Convention to use the diplomatic pouch, it rarely does, and asserting the Ms. Agwai does not have access. It is said that a more formal communication is in the works. We will continue to follow this issue, but note again our sourcing: we said that a complain filed with the UN Ethics Office made the allegations, and that is true.

  These irregularities were brought to Inner City Press' attention after its reporting on the death of UN staff member Jesmel Navoa last month. Mr. Navoa had a stroke while working at 6:45 p.m. in the UN's publishing shop in the third sub-basement. New York's emergency services 911 was not called in a timely manner, and it took an hour for a New York City ambulance to arrive. There was no doctor on duty in the UN medical service, and none of the staff present had been trained in appropriate Life Support technique. Click here for Inner City Press' exclusive story.

  The director of the Medical Service, Brian Davey, held a staff meeting this week at which he referred to the Inner City Press story, and belatedly sought to train staff in how and when to call 911. Sources link the UN medical service to other deaths in the UN on which we will be reporting again in the future.

At UN, Diazepam and Ambien, controls not shown

   Mr. Davey's predecessor Sudershan Narula was Kofi Annan's private doctor, was kept on past retirement age and left when Annan did.  Click here for a previous Inner City Press story about Dr. Narula. Mr. Oleinikov's predecessor, a Dr. Salam, was a relative of the previous Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros Ghali, and was alleged to have mis-treated UN staff members in Africa. Currently, talk at the UN is of a tourniquet mis-applied such that a staff member has faced losing a foot to amputation. Such are the dangers of nepotism combined with unlicensed and under-supervised practice.

  The nepotism of the UN Medical Service is not limited to hiring, but extends to referral. Recently a relative, Dr. Ma, was belated taken off the UN's referral list. Previously, the husband of Kofi Annan's top aide Elizabeth Lindenmayer was said to be a doctor on the UN's referral list.

  The UN Medical Service is not supposed to be anyone's primary care giver. But despite this, controlled substances are given out, sometimes by nurses without a UN "doctor's" orders. Additionally, these UN "doctors" receive and sometimes keep sample medicines and sexual aids from pharmaceutical companies. Recently, as the US Drug Enforcement Agency has been informed of these irregularities, some forms of inventory control have belated been implemented. But well placed sources describe this as a cover-up, not a reform.

   The UN medical service is part of the Office of Human Resources Management, headed by Catherine Pollard, which in turn is part of the Department of Management, headed by Angela Kane. Inner City Press has previously covered a pattern in which the UN Pension Fund sent staff members who complained against management for mandatory mental check-ups in the medical service. There is a counter-trend in which staff members with supporters in high places are given Long Term Disability letters, to be paid without working, and these ruling are never put into a date base that can be audited.

  These uses of the Medical Service would, of course, be contrary to the Hippocratic Oath. These issues, including the unlicensed practice of medicine and dispensing of controlled narcotics go further, and are crimes.

  In some but not all cases, the UN medical staff at issue have kept up licensing in the countries they come from. Even this would not be acceptable anywhere else in New York or the United States. But sources tell Inner City Press that several have not even kept up their overseas licenses, may not even ever have had them. The medical service, they say, is shot through with nepotism, such as the hiring and lack of supervision of the wife of the UN's Darfur General, Martin Luther Agwai. The sources describe other questionable behavior by Agwai, in Darfur, that is beyond the current scope of this medical series.

  For now the questions are not only how has the UN and its medical service gotten away with this for so long, but also why the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), headed by Inga-Britt Ahlenius, did nothing when told about this. OIOS investigator Florin Postica was told, in detail, and was even provided with photographs of the controlled narcotics. Yet no action was taken. Likewise, Susan John of the UN Ethics Office, headed by Robert Benson, was told part of this troubling story, and has apparently done nothing. Ms. Ahlenius has systematically refused Press questions and has not held a briefing in many months. Ban Ki-moon's Spokesperson's Office cancelled its Q&A on April 20, and resisted taking any range of questions in the days after that. Responses will be reported after they are received.

   Even the UN's Capital Master Plan can be impacted, as unlicensed staff in the UN medical service are rebelling against a planned move to a rented office space on Second Avenue and 42nd Street, over Innovation Luggage and a liquor store. There, the lack of licenses and the dispensing of controlled narcotics could, they fear, subject them to arrest. Attempts are being made to keep them within the UN compound east of First Avenue, beyond the reach of the law. Watch this site.

Update of 5:25 p.m., April 24 -- at the day's noon briefing, Inner City Press asked UN Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe about the story above, i.e., does the UN claim that those dispensing Valium don't need licenses, and to confirm that several script-writing pads and powers were recently revoked, DEA interested, etc. Ms. Okabe said, I have no information on that. Then:

Subj: Your questions on the UN Medical Services Division
From: unspokesperson-donotreply [at]
To: Inner City Press
Sent: 4/24/2009 4:29:35 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time

 The Medical Services Division (MSD) provides a comprehensive occupational health service to UN staff system-wide, including health promotion, clinical care, and travel health services, as well as advice to the administration of the UN, its Funds and Programmes, and DPKO/DFS on clinical and medico-administrative issues. In addition, MSD provides medical advice to UN medical facilities across the globe, coordinating implementation of UN policies on medical and health care. The overall goal is to improve staff health, lower risk, and ensure that job demands are met.

The Medical Services Division in New York does not provide a primary care service to staff, referring staff instead to the local health system for definitive management of any medical conditions detected. A requirement for recruitment of doctors and nurses employed by the United Nations is that they are registered to practice their professions in their country of origin. A limited quantity of medications is maintained on site, and stock control is rigorously performed, and is verifiable, according to standard pharmaceutical control norms.

The recent allegations regarding pharmaceutical control measures at the United Nations are not new and are in fact being investigated by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). The Medical Services Division has provided its full cooperation to OIOS in that regard.

  But who is going to be held accountable, and what will change? Watch this site.

Sample Diazepam sign-out sheet from UN Medical Service

Note: the evidence above was removed from the public record on May 16, 2009 in an abundance of caution in response to the UN demand, below:

Subj: Medical record photograph

From: [Chief, Media Liaison and Accreditation at]

To: Inner City Press

Sent: 5/16/2009 11:10:42 A.M. Eastern Standard Time

Dear Matthew

I see that you have republished a photograph containing confidential medical records of UN staff on your website. See the link below to the story and photo of a 'sample sign-out sheet'.

I ask that you please remove this photograph out of respect for the confidentiality of all staff concerned.

Gary Fowlie

Chief, Media Liaison and Accreditation,

United Nations, S-250, New York, NY 10017

   Click here for (related?) Sri Lanka coverage of May 15, 2009. Watch this site.

Update: On May 26, Inner City Press received the following

Sent: 5/26/2009 1:45:29 P.M. Eastern Standard Time

In response to your recent news story on the Medical Service, we are transmitting the following information provided by OIOS:

In response to media reports claiming that ga group of largely unlicensed doctors and nurses are dispensing and in some cases taking and self-medicating with Valium, Diazepam, Demerol, Ambien and other controlled narcoticsh at the UN, the Office for Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) informed us that the facts need to be correctly stated.

The Office informed us that a complainant had reported to OIOS about possible abuse in the management and dispensation of controlled substances in the Medical Services Division (MSD) of the United Nations. OIOS immediately assigned two investigators to conduct preliminary inquiries into this report.

Based upon the information obtained, OIOS confirmed that the Medical Services Division does have a process in place to ensure safe custody and dispensation of controlled substances.

OIOS concluded its preliminary inquiries and determined that the complainant's claims about the abuse of the dispensation of controlled substances in the MSD could not be verified. It adds that a fully conclusive verification can only be obtained upon a full investigation. This would require review of confidential medical records, to which OIOS does not have access.

  Is this what the UN means by exonerated -- that it creates "rules" that preclude its supposedly independent investigative unit from verifying a whistleblower's allegations which are backed up by photographic and other evidence?

Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

* * *

These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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