Outcry as Mugabe Named WHO ‘Goodwill’ Ambassador

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Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe was just named goodwill ambassador of the World Health Organization’s non-communicable disease agency for Africa — an appointment that generated such widespread outcry, the appointing party, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, rescinded it.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organisation director general.

But that fact it was even made in the first place shows just how misguided — at best — and corrupt the international body truly is.

Mugabe, remember, has been sanctioned by America for some time for human rights abuses.

The Times of Israel has more on the appointment:

With Mugabe on hand, WHO director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus told a conference in Uruguay this week on non-communicable diseases that he’d agreed to be a “goodwill ambassador” on the issue.

Tedros, an Ethiopian who became WHO’s first African director-general this year, said Mugabe could use the role “to influence his peers in his region.”

A WHO spokeswoman confirmed the comments to The Associated Press on Friday.

In his speech, Tedros described Zimbabwe as “a country that places universal health coverage and health promotion at the center of its policies to provide health care to all.”

Two dozen organizations — 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 Tedros on the sidelines of the conference, to no avail.

The southern African nation once was known as the region’s prosperous breadbasket. But in 2008, the charity Physicians for Human Rights released a report documenting failures in Zimbabwe’s health system, saying that Mugabe’s policies had led to a man-made crisis.

“The government of Robert Mugabe presided over the dramatic reversal of its population’s access to food, clean water, basic sanitation and health care,” the group concluded. “The Mugabe regime has used any means at its disposal, including politicizing the health sector, to maintain its hold on power.”

The report said Mugabe’s policies led directly to “the shuttering of hospitals and clinics, the closing of its medical school and the beatings of health workers.”

The US in 2003 imposed targeted sanctions, a travel ban and an asset freeze against Mugabe and close associates, citing his government’s rights abuses and evidence of electoral fraud.

UN agencies typically choose celebrities as ambassadors to draw attention to issues of concern, but they hold little actual power.

Last year, the UN dropped the superhero Wonder Woman as an ambassador for “empowering girls and women” after the decision drew widespread criticism.

Thank goodness the world was watching this appointment — and activated the alarm.

IOL News has more:

At an international conference on non-communicable diseases, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organisation director general, recently named Zimbabwe president, Robert Mugabe, as a new WHO “goodwill ambassador” on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) for Africa. Following international uproar the accolade was rescinded – but the debacle showed both misguided good intention and the importance of internal communication.

Ghebreyesus (or Tedros, as he likes to be known) was elected to lead the WHO in May. He has a strong record of global health leadership, having previously served as chair of the board for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, and co-chair of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. From 2005-2012 he served as Ethiopia’s minister of health, winning plaudits for reforming the health system, improving outcomes, and widening access to care. He has his critics – at the same time as he was reducing maternal mortality by 60% – his government was accused of covering up three cholera epidemics. Ghebreyesus dismissed these “smears” and was supported by several independent public health leaders. Nevertheless, he did serve in a senior position in a government that has been criticised for human rights abuses.

Tedros trained at the prestigious London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and completed his PhD in community health at Nottingham University. He is generally well regarded, and is the first non-medic and the first African to hold the WHO’s top job. …

A few good things have come out of the debacle. The international uproar has applied fresh diplomatic pressure on Mugabe and served to highlight the plight of his people. The episode also put non-communicable diseases into headlines; NCDs are the leading cause of death and disability worldwide but they are misunderstood, under-funded, and under-researched. The swift cancellation of the accolade was also a victory for civil society, and a rare example of a leader who is willing to listen and change their mind when wrong.

The unforced clanger has badly tarnished the WHO’s reputation, undermined its credibility, and raised serious questions about the new director’s judgement. Seen in the context of his efforts to “seek broad support” and “high-level political leadership for health” his error is perhaps more understandable. However, commendable efforts to include everyone on the journey to truly universal healthcare cannot come at the cost of condoning and legitimising despots and oppressive regimes. Violence, political oppression, and corruption are anathema to the founding principles of the WHO: promoting the highest standards of mental, physical, and social well-being for all.

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