The World Health Organisation
(WHO) should overturn its decision to appoint of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe
as a goodwill ambassador, global health leaders said on Saturday, describing the move as unjustifiable and wrong.
The British government said Mugabe’s appointment was “surprising and disappointing” and added that it risked overshadowing the WHO’s global work.
Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
announced the appointment at a high-level meeting on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Uruguay on Wednesday.
The meeting was attended by Mugabe, 93. He is blamed in the West for destroying his country’s economy and numerous human rights abuses during his 37 years leading the country as either president or prime minister.
In a speech, Tedros 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”.
The former Ethiopian health and foreign minister, who
was elected last May as WHO’s first African director-general, added: “Today I am also honoured to announce that President Mugabe has agreed to serve as a goodwill ambassador on NCDs for Africa to influence his peers in his region to prioritise NCDs.”
But the NCD Alliance, which represents 28 international
health groups seeking to combat chronic diseases, said it was “shocked and deeply concerned” to hear of the appointment, given Mugabe’s “long track record of human rights violations”.
Jeremy Farrar, a leading global health specialist and director of the Wellcome Trust charity also said the decision was “deeply disappointing and wrong” and called on Tedros to be brave and reverse it.
fails in every way to represent the values WHO
should stand for and those that Dr Tedros has stood for since becoming DG and has done over many years,” Farrar said. “Brave leaders are willing to listen, rethink and overturn bad decisions, this is one such case,” he said.
spokesman Christian Lindmeier said the WHO
chief had made the move seeking broad support for the agency’s work.
“Tedros has frequently talked of his determination to build a global movement to promote high-level political leadership for health,” he said by e-mail.
Human rights activists also criticised the move.