Geneva, Switzerland: Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Sunday reversed his decision to name Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe as a UN goodwill ambassador, following widespread uproar.
“Over the last few days, I have reflected on my appointment of H E President Robert Mugabe as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for (Non-communicable diseases) in Africa. As a result I have decided to rescind the appointment” the head of the UN agency, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said in a statement.
Tedros, who took charge of WHO in July, said he had “listened carefully” to those who condemned the decision and spoken to the Harare government.
“We have concluded that this decision is in the best interests of the World Health Organisation.”
Tedros had announced the appointment earlier this week during a speech in Uruguay, where he praised Zimbabwe as “a country that places universal health coverage and health promotion at the centre of its policies to provide health care to all”.
But activists, public health experts and key WHO donors like Britain, Canada and the United States swiftly denounced any prospective role for Mugabe, saying Zimbabwe’s healthcare system has collapsed under his 37 years of authoritarian rule.
Tedros said today his goal was “to build political leadership and create unity around bringing health to all.”
The WHO boss had faced mounting pressure to reverse the decision, including from some of the leading voices in global public health.
“The Mugabe appointment, coming at the end of (Tedros’s) first 100 days, was a misstep,” the director of the Global Health Institute at Harvard University, Ashish K Jha, told AFP in an email shortly before the WHO decision was announced.
“Reversing will actually be a strong sign that the leadership listens and is willing to be responsive to views of the global public,” he added.
The US ambassador to the United Nations during Barack Obama’s administration, Samantha Power, tweeted: “Tedros will surely revoke terrible apptmt of Mugabe as goodwill ambassador, but damage is done.
“The only person whose health 93-yo Mugabe has looked out for in his 37 year reign is his own.”
Multiple critics noted that Mugabe, who is 93 and in increasingly fragile health, travels abroad for medical care because Zimbabwe’s health care system has been so severely decimated.
Richard Horton, the editor of the leading medical journal The Lancet said: “WHO DG stands for Director-General, not Dictator-General. Tedros, my friend, retract your decision, consult with colleagues, and rethink.”
Tedros is the former health minister of Ethiopia.
His election as the first African leader of WHO was billed as a key moment for the continent, where much of organisation’s work is based.
But his decision to honour one of Africa’s most controversial leaders has raised questions about his leadership just four months into his tenure.
EARLIER: Robert Mugabe Named UN Goodwill Ambassador In Head Scratcher – The World Health Organisation, WHO, Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has named Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s President of 30 years a UN goodwill ambassador. With Mr Robert Mugabe on hand, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus told a conference on non-communicable diseases in Uruguay that Robert Mugabe had agreed to be a goodwill ambassador on the issue.
Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, an Ethiopian who became WHO’s first African director-general this year, told delegates that Mr Mugabe could use the role “to influence his peers in his region”.
In his speech,Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus described Zimbabwe as “a country that places universal health coverage and health promotion at the centre of its policies to provide health care to all”.
Two dozen organisations, including the World Heart Federation, Action Against Smoking and Cancer Research UK, released a statement slamming the appointment, saying health officials were “shocked and deeply concerned” and citing his “long track record of human rights violations”.
The groups said they had raised their concerns with Mr Tedros on the sidelines of the conference to no avail.
The southern African nation of Zimbabwe was once known as the region’s prosperous breadbasket.
Here are some reactions on Twitter:
richard horton @richardhorton1: Dear Tedros – You must rescind your decision. Here is Human Rights Watch on President Mugabe’. You are endorsing a repressive dictator.
Fadzayi Mahere @advocatemahere: Dear @WHO, What criteria did you use to name President Mugabe a goodwill ambassador? And how dare you mock the health situation in Zimbabwe.
Nyunggai W MundineVerified account @nyunggai: This has to be a sick joke. A murdering dictator a UN Goodwill Ambassador. How are the UN going to defend this?
Rita PanahiVerified account @RitaPanahi: There really is no analogy that does this insanity justice.
hazvie wacho @ThelmaChirume: Does it make me a bad Zimbabwean that I’m disappointed that Robert Mugabe is not trending for dying
Jack Montgomery نVerified account @JackBMontgomery: UN World Health Org (WHO) just made Robert ‘White Killers Will Never Be Prosecuted’ Mugabe a ‘Goodwill Ambassador’. Defunding when, @GOVUK?
Mike S @SodomHall: Robert Mugabe a world health ambassador? Isn’t that a bit like making Josef Fritzl an advisor for good parenting skills?
John SimpsonVerified account @JohnSimpsonNews: Mugabe made WHO goodwill ambassador, Trump blames UK crime on Muslims, Spain imposes rule on Catalans, but my big worry is Chelsea v Watford
Dr Lauren GavaghanVerified account @DancingTheMind: Robert Mugabe. Goodwill Ambassador. A man who has presided over hideous human rights abuses. What is .@UN thinking?
Nicholas KristofVerified account @NickKristof: .@DrTedros Really? You appointed Robert Mugabe a WHO goodwill ambassador? What aged dictator is next on the list?
Beardy Zombie @life_screams_ : Robert Mugabe is going to be a goodwill ambassador for the WHO! The age of stupid really is shooting off the irony scale.
Justice4All @Unathi_Kwaza: Mugabe appointed UN Goodwill Ambassador. Oh my word. Can things get any worse in the world?
David VanceVerified account @DVATW: Globalists sink lower than a snakes belly.
Faith M. KarimiVerified account @faithcnn: World Health Organization names Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe as its goodwill ambassador, leaving people scratching their heads
Isabel WebsterVerified account @SunriseIsabel: Mugabe, appointed “Goodwill Ambassador” for WHO?! He’s spent 37yrs destroying Zimbabwe’s health service + has a dodgy human rights record..
Brendan CoxVerified account @MrBrendanCox: This must have been a drunken bet
LilyVerified account @lilyallen: What on God’s earth ?
UK Rants @uk_rants: Saudi Barbaria on the Human Rights Council. Robert Mugabe now a ‘goodwill ambassador’ for WHO.
Top trolling UN, top trolling.
Rod Bishop @rodbishop15: How can organisations like the #WorldHealthOrganisation retain any credibility after making #Mugabe a goodwill ambassador? He’s a murderer.
Meg @MRipley13: Of course Robert Mugabe has been appointed a WHO goodwill ambassador because this is 2017 and NOTHING MAKES SENSE ANYMORE.
Prof. Godfrey Bloom @goddersbloom: Mugabe has been honoured by the WHO for improving Zimbabwean health.
The WHO is expected to posthumously make an award to Adolf Hitler.
Dr Rebecca Marchant @Becca_March: The UN made Robert Mugabe – the murdering, racist, totalitarian Robert Mugabe – a WHO ‘Goodwill’ Ambassador. Peak Orwellian 2017.