Provoking global head-scratching and more than a little outrage, Robert Mugabe, the longtime president of Zimbabwe - who faces worldwide sanctions for human-rights abuses including violent crackdowns on political dissent - has been appointed as a "goodwill ambassador" for the World Health Organization.
"We have registered our concerns with WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus", a foreign office spokesperson said in an email. "It goes against the goals of protecting the world's most vulnerable populations". "As a result, I have made a decision to rescind the appointment", the World Health Organization director general said in a statement. The State Department said Mugabe's appointment "clearly contradicts the United Nations' ideals of respect for human rights and human dignity".
A spokesman said the United Nations agency's decision was "surprising and disappointing" and risked "overshadowing work undertaken globally by the WHO".
But the NCD Alliance, which represents 28 global 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".
Critics were particularly offended at the idea that Mugabe was appointed because of his contributions to public health given the collapse of Zimbabwe's healthcare system under his watch, along with the country's economy in recent years.
"Staff often go without pay, medicines are in short supply, and Mugabe, who has outlived the average life expectancy in his country by three decades, travels overseas for medical treatment", the BBC reported.
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The controversy regarding the appointment of WHO Goodwill Ambassador for NCDs in Africa soared-up as WHO struggles to recover its reputation stained by its slowness in tackling the Ebola epidemic that killed over 11000 in West Africa in 2015 under Tedros' predecessor Margaret Chan. ". While we support World Health Organization and Dr. Tedros in their ambition to drive the NCD agenda forward, we are unable to recognise President Mugabe as a champion for NCDs".
Like Neuer, many found it odd that a man accused of destroying Zimbabwe's health care system is now speaking out on global health issues. This movement must work for everyone and include everyone. "Robert Mugabe fails in every way to represent the values World Health Organization should stand for".
"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".