The World Health Organization director general rescinded his decision to make President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe a WHO goodwill health ambassador on Sunday, following international outcry about Mugabe being an appropriate choice for the role.
“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,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a statement, referring to the role’s focus on noncommunicable diseases.
“I have listened carefully to all who have expressed their concerns, and heard the different issues that they have raised,” he added. “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.”
As a result, the Mugabe appointment was rescinded. Tedros had signaled Saturday that he was rethinking the decision in a social media message and planned a statement soon.
Tedros made the announcement about 92-year-old Mugabe’s appointment on Wednesday while attending a global health conference. While Tedros spoke in glowing terms of the president’s leadership commitment to universal health care, the news was met with a collective recoil.
Response to the decision reflected shock and dismay across the spectrum, from medical experts at the highest international levels to community activists in Zimbabwe who were equally incredulous.
“The appointment is so surreal that finding a rationale seems like a fool’s errand,” said David Fidler, a professor of international health law in the United States who emailed reporter Helen Branswell of STAT about Mugabe. “But there is a message, and it is a harsh one: DG Tedros is challenging conventional global health approaches and attitudes about Africa.”
Image: UNGA file