The World Health Organisation has officially removed Robert Mugabe as a ‘goodwill ambassador’ after less than a week.
The decision to appoint the Zimbabwean president sparked international backlash, with health bodies around the world complaining about the decision.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who made the appointment at a conference on non-communicable diseases in Uruguay last Wednesday, said in a statement that he had listen to those expressing their concerns.
‘Over the last few days, I have reflected on my appointment of H.E. President Robert Mugabe as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for NCDs in Africa,’ he said. ‘As a result I have decided to rescind the appointment.’
Mugabe, 93, has long been criticised at home for going overseas for medical treatment as Zimbabwe’s once-prosperous economy falls apart. He also faces sanctions over his government’s human rights abuses.
The US State Department called the appointment of Mugabe by WHO’s first African leader disappointing, adding: ‘This appointment clearly contradicts the United Nations ideals of respect for human rights and human dignity.’
Health and human rights leaders chimed in, with Wellcome Trust director Dr Jeremy Farrar saying: ‘The decision to appoint Robert Mugabe as a WHO goodwill ambassador is deeply disappointing and wrong. Robert Mugabe fails in every way to represent the values WHO should stand for.’
Simon Harris, Ireland’s health minister, added that the appointment was ‘offensive, bizarre’. Kenneth Roth, the head of Human Rights Watch, tweeted: ‘Mugabe corruption decimates Zimbabwe health care.’
Two dozen organisations – including the World Heart Federation and Cancer Research UK – released a statement criticising the appointment, saying health officials were ‘shocked and deeply concerned’, and citing Mugabe’s ‘long track record of human rights violations’.
The groups added that they had raised their concerns with Tedros at the actual conference, but to no avail.
Zimbabwe’s government hasn’t commented on the appointment, but the state-run Zimbabwe Herald newspaper called it a ‘new feather in the president’s cap’.