Mugabe removed as WHO ambassador after outrage

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has revoked the appointment of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe as a goodwill ambassador after widespread criticism from governments and human rights groups.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Sunday that he had reflected on Mugabe’s appointment as a goodwill ambassador on noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) for Africa. “As a result I have decided to rescind the appointment,” he said.

Tedros announced the appointment on Wednesday during a health conference in Uruguay, where the director-general praised Zimbabwe as a country that “places health coverage and health promotion at the center of its policies to provide health care to all.”

News about Tedros’ decision prompted outrage on social media and condemnation from human rights groups and Western governments. “Given the serious human rights abuses under Mugabe’s regime, such an appointment is inconceivable and unacceptable,” Canada’s foreign ministry said.

WHO often appoints well-known personalities as goodwill ambassadors to raise awareness of important health problems and solutions. Current goodwill ambassadors include former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chinese First Lady Peng Liyuan.

In Sunday’s statement, Tedros said his aim was to build a “worldwide movement” for global health that works for everyone and includes everyone. “I remain firmly committed to working with all countries and their leaders to ensure that everyone has access to the health care they need,” he said.

Tedros added: “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.”

Mugabe, who is 93, has ruled Zimbabwe since 1987, making him one of the world’s longest-ruling leaders. Zimbabwe has faced sanctions from the international community for alleged human rights abuses and vote-rigging by Mugabe, who himself suffers from poor health and travels abroad for treatment.

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