Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has annulled his appointment of President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe as the WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases in Africa, apparently due to widespread outcry.
“I have listened carefully to all who have expressed their concerns,” said Dr Ghebreyesus in a statement issued on Sunday, October 22, 2017.
He had previously praised Zimbabwe for its commitment to public health.
But critics pointed out that Zimbabwe’s healthcare system had collapsed in recent years.
During the first 20 years of his 37-year rule, Mr Mugabe widely expanded health care, but the system has badly been affected by the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy since 2000.
Staff often go without pay, medicines are in short supply, and Mr Mugabe, who has outlived the average life expectancy in his country by three decades, travels abroad for medical treatment.
Mr Tedros said he had consulted with the Zimbabwean government and decided that rescinding Mr Mugabe’s position was “in the best interests of” the WHO.
He said he remained “firmly committed to working with all countries and their leaders” to build universal health care.
Mugabe’s appointment was met by a wave of surprise and 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.
Ghebreyesus’ statement reads:
Over the last few days, I have reflected on my appointment of H.E. President Robert Mugabe as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases in Africa. As a result I have decided to rescind the appointment.
I have listened carefully to all who have expressed their concerns, and heard the different issues that they have raised. 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 Organisation.
It is my aim to build a worldwide movement for global health. This movement must work for everyone and include everyone.
For me, what is important is to build political leadership and create unity around bringing health to all, based on WHO’s core values.
I remain firmly committed to working with all countries and their leaders to ensure that every one has access to the health care they need.
We must build bridges that bring us together and help us move forward in our quest to achieve universal health coverage.
I thank everyone who has voiced their concerns and shared their thoughts. I depend on constructive debate to help and inform the work I have been elected to do.