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'Bizarre and offensive': Simon Harris weighs in on the Robert Mugabe controversy

Mugabe’s appointment was condemned by a number of officials..

Image: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

THE HEAD OF the World Health Organization (WHO) reversed his decision to name Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe a goodwill ambassador, saying it was in the “best interests” of the UN agency.

Activists, public health experts and key WHO donors like Britain, Canada and the United States HAD denounced THE prospective role for Mugabe within the agency, saying Zimbabwe’s healthcare system has collapsed under his 37-year rule.

“The Mugabe appointment was a misstep,” the director of the Global Health Institute at Harvard University, Ashish K Jha, told AFP in an email.

“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.

In a statement this afternoon, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyes said: “Over the last few days, I have reflected on my appointment of HE President Robert Mugabe as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for (non-communicable 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 Organization.

“We must build bridges that bring us together and help us move forward in our quest to achieve universal health coverage.”

Health Minister Simon Harris tweeted this afternoon that he was glad the decision was made.

He said: “Pleased that common sense has prevailed & the WHO has now rescinded the bizarre and offensive appointment of Mugabe as an Ambassador.”

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.”

Previously, 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, a former Ethiopian health minister, took charge of WHO in July.

His election as the first African leader of the organisation was billed as a key moment for the continent, where much of WHO’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.

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