WHO rescinds Mugabe appointment as ′goodwill ambassador′ | News | DW | 20.10.2017
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WHO rescinds Mugabe appointment as 'goodwill ambassador'

The World Health Organization walked back on its move to make Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe a "goodwill ambassador." He has been condemned for rights violations and allowing the health care system to deteriorate.

The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Sunday that it had revoked the appointment of 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe as the organizations "goodwill ambassador."

"I have listened carefully to all who have expressed their concerns, and heard the different issues that they have raised," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the first African to hold his post.

Read more: WHO director general: political will needed to transform Africa's health system 

The WHO came under fire immediately after it named Mugabe a "goodwill ambassador" on Friday.

Zimbabwe's once prosperous economy has been devastated under Mugabe's 37-year rule. Like many public services, the health system has collapsed, with hospitals lacking basic medical supplies and medicines; nurses and doctors often go unpaid.

Critics pointed to Mugabe's need to seek medical assistance abroad as a testament to Zimbabwe's crumbling health system.

More than two dozen medical organizations issued a statement saying they were "shocked and deeply concerned to hear of this appointment, given President Mugabe's long track record of human rights violations and undermining the dignity of human beings."

The groups said they raised the issue with the WHO chief but their concerns were initially ignored, while the United States called the decision "disappointing."

Human rights groups also condemned the decision.

"Given Mugabe's appalling human rights record, calling him a Goodwill Ambassador for anything embarrasses WHO and Doctor Tedros," Iain Levine, program director at Human Rights Watch, wrote on Twitter.

WHO rethinks move

Earlier in the week, Ghebreyesus had praised Mugabe at a conference on non-communicable diseases in Uruguay this week, saying the 93-year-old could use the new role to "influence his peers in his region."

Zimbabwe is "a country that places universal health coverage and health promotion at the center of its policies to provide health care to all," said Tedros.

However, following the waves of criticism that followed Friday's announcement, WHO said that it would re-evaluate its decision. 

According to WHO, non-communicable diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and respiratory illnesses are the leading cause of death and disability in the world, killing at least 36 million people every year.

The UN appoints goodwill ambassadors to draw attention to certain causes, but they hold little power. Mugabe would have been the first African to hold the post.

cw,es/ng (AFP, AP, dpa)

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