PARIS (Reuters) - The World Health Organization (WHO) said the expulsion of its representative in Equatorial Guinea followed a "misunderstanding over data" and denied that she had falsified the central African nation's COVID-19 case numbers.
The Equatorial Guinea government asked WHO on May 26 to immediately replace the representative, Triphonie Nkurunziza, and the prime minister later told lawmakers that she had inflated the number of COVID-19 cases.
WHO confirmed Nkurunziza's expulsion at a news conference on Thursday, without providing any details, before issuing a statement later in the day that called the government's decision "regrettable" and defended Nkurunziza's integrity.
"There has been a misunderstanding over data, which WHO offered to clarify. WHO wishes to state that Dr. Nkurunziza did not falsify COVID-19 figures," the statement said.
Equatorial Guinea has registered more than 1,000 cases of COVID-19 and 12 deaths, numbers that relative to its population of 1.2 million make it one of the African countries considered by WHO to be "severely affected" by the pandemic.
Equatorial Guinea, Sub-Saharan Africa's only Spanish-speaking country, has been run along authoritarian lines by President Teodoro Obiang since a 1979 coup and is a major oil and gas producer.
Nkurunziza hails from Burundi in East Africa, whose government expelled the WHO representative stationed there last month without giving reasons.
(Reporting by Bate Felix; Writing by Aaron Ross and Giles Elgood)