The World Health Organization (WHO) has revoked the appointment of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe as a goodwill ambassador days after his appointment, a move that angered and stunned human rights activists.
WHO director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus last week told a conference in Uruguay on non-communicable diseases that Mugabe, who was present, had agreed to be a “goodwill ambassador” on the issue, drawing widespread outcry.
After the outcry by international leaders and health experts, Tedros said in a statement that he had reflected and decided to change his mind, calling it in the best interests of the U.N. health agency.
“I have reflected on my appointment of H.E. President Robert Mugabe as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for NCDs in Africa. As a result I have decided to rescind the appointment. I have listened carefully to all who have expressed their concerns, and heard the different issues that they have raised” said WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a statement.
He however explained that Mugabe’s appointment was part of the WHO commitment ” to working with all countries and their leaders to ensure that every one has access to the health care they need”.
“I have also consulted with the Government of Zimbabwe and we have concluded that this decision is in the best interests of the World Health Organization. It is my aim to build a worldwide movement for global health. This movement must work for everyone and include everyone.
“For me, what is important is to build political leadership and create unity around bringing health to all” he added, urging: “We must build bridges that bring us together and help us move forward in our quest to achieve universal health coverage”
Critics pointed out that Zimbabwe’s healthcare system had collapsed under Mr Mugabe’s 30-year rule as staff often go without pay and medicines in short supply as Mr Mugabe travels abroad for medical treatment.
Meanwhile, President Mugabe has said he respects the turnabout, with the Zimbabwe government saying WHO “benefited tremendously” from the attention Mugabe’s appointment drew.