[Ip-health] FT: WHO criticised for appointing Mugabe goodwill ambassador

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Sat Oct 21 07:29:34 PDT 2017


World Health Organisation
WHO criticised for appointing Mugabe goodwill ambassador

Health and human rights organisations call on WHO to reverse ‘sickening’

2 HOURS AGO by David Pilling

The appointment of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s 93-year-old president, as
“goodwill ambassador” to the World Health Organization has provoked a
fierce backlash from international human rights groups and a call from at
least one politician to suspend the Geneva-based organisation’s funding.

The appointment of Mr Mugabe as goodwill ambassador for non-communicable
diseases was announced last week by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, an
Ethiopian and the first African director-general of the WHO. The
appointment was swiftly condemned by several health and human rights
organisations, including UN Watch, which called it “sickening”.

Mr Mugabe, who has run Zimbabwe for 37 years, has been widely condemned for
human rights abuses and for presiding over the collapse of the country’s

Although he has won grudging praise for Zimbabwe’s partial success in
countering the high prevalence of HIV-Aids, he has also been criticised for
his strident views on homosexuality, which he has described as “contrary to
our norms and values”.

Mr Tedros, who as Ethiopian health minister emphasised the importance of
bringing basic healthcare to rural communities, praised Mr Mugabe for
running a country “that places universal health coverage and health
promotion at the centre of its policies to provide healthcare to all”. He
said that Zimbabwe’s leader, who remains popular in parts of Africa because
of his defiant anti-colonial rhetoric, was ideally placed to “influence his

Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust said the decision to appoint
Mr Mugabe as a goodwill ambassador was deeply disappointing and wrong and
called on Mr Tedros to reverse it. “Robert Mugabe fails in every way to
represent the values WHO should stand for . . . Brave leaders are willing
to listen, rethink and overturn bad decisions, this is one such case,” he

Speaking on the BBC’s Today programme, Nigel Evans, a UK Conservative MP
and member of the International Development Select Committee, said
international donors should threaten to cut funding until Mr Mugabe’s
appointment was reversed.

“I find it astonishing and reprehensive that the World Health Organization
has done this,” he said. Mr Mugabe had gone to Singapore three times this
year for his own medical treatment, an indictment of a health service that,
he said, Zimbabwe’s own doctors had described as “teetering on the brink of

Mr Evans said he would be bringing the issue up with Theresa May, the UK
prime minister. “I think the only way perhaps that Mr Tedros will
understand fully that the decision he has made is absolutely appalling is
if we threaten the funding of the organisation,” he said. “There can be no
credibility of the WHO while one of its goodwill ambassadors is Robert

Mr Mugabe was reported in the state-run Zimbabwe Herald newspaper as saying
that Zimbabwe had developed a national policy on non-communicable diseases
— such as heart disease and diabetes — and palliative care, which is
severely lacking in much of Africa. Zimbabwe, he said, “had engaged United
Nations agencies working in the country, to assist in the development of a
cervical cancer prevention and control strategy.” The emphasis on tackling
communicable diseases, such as malaria and HIV, means that many health
systems in Africa are ill-prepared to deal with so-called diseases of

The US is the largest donor to the WHO, contributing more than $110m,
though President Donald Trump has shown little enthusiasm for the

A spokesperson for the WHO in Geneva said it was too early to comment on Mr
Mugabe’s appointment even though Mr Tedros made the announcement in Uruguay
three days ago. “For the time being I have nothing to tell you,” she said.

Additional reporting by Andrew Jack.

Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International
41 22 791 6727
thiru at keionline.org

More information about the Ip-health mailing list