PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s appointment as a goodwill ambassador for the World Health Organisation has been revoked just a couple of days after it was announced by WHO’s new director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Dr Tedros, who was elected in May under the slogan “let’s prove the impossible is possible” had said he had appointed Mugabe in the hope that he would use his goodwill ambassador role to “influence his peers in the region”.
However, the appointment of Zimbabwe’s 93 year old president was met by a wave of international condemnation.
The UK government, the Canadian prime minister, the Wellcome Trust, the NCD Alliance, UN Watch, the World Heart Federation, Action Against Smoking and Zimbabwean lawyers and social media users were among those who criticised the decision.
Many WHO member states also expressed dismay at Mugabe’s appointment as a goodwill ambassador.
Critics pointed out that during Mugabe’s 37 year rule Zimbabwe’s healthcare system, which used to be one of the best in Africa had collapsed along with the economy since 2000, with nurses and doctors often going without pay and hospitals and clinics short of medicine and medical equipment.
A Zimbabwean commenting on social media wrote: Well done all those who protested against this appointment. It did not make sense to appoint a person who does not use local health facilities, but uses a lot of money to secure health treatment overseas for himself and his family-leaving the majority of Zimbabweans without any health care to talk about. Whether we like it or not Smith (former Rhodesian Prime Minister) had made a lot of progress in terms of health care delivery in the country. Mugabe has done a lot to destroy it to the extent he does not want himself and his family to use it.
Dr Tedros was forced to do an about-face and issue a statement saying he had consulted with the Zimbabwean government and decided that rescinding Mugabe’s position was “in the best interests of” the WHO.
“I have listened carefully to all who have expressed their concerns,” the statement said.
Furthermore, Dr Tedros said he remained “firmly committed to working with all countries and their leaders” to build universal health care.