Making Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe WHO goodwill ambassador is 'insult'

Zimbabwe's opposition says the decision to appoint dictator Robert Mugabe as a World Health Organisation goodwill ambassador is "laughable" and an "insult".

The WHO's new director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced the move at a conference in Uruguay, praising the African country for its commitment to public health.

Critics say Mr Mugabe's policy and his long record of alleged human rights abuses have had a disastrous impact on the health system - with medicine shortages and staff going unpaid.

Movement for Democratic Change, Zimbabwe's main opposition party, described the WHO appointment as "laughable".

Spokesman Obert Gutu said: "The Zimbabwe health delivery system is in a shambolic state. It is an insult.

"Mugabe trashed our health delivery system. He and his family go outside of the country for treatment in Singapore after he allowed our public hospitals to collapse."

No 10 described Mr Mugabe's appointment as "surprising and disappointing, particularly in light of the current US and EU sanctions against him".

It said it had raised its concerns with Dr Tedros, adding: "Although Mugabe will not have an executive role, his appointment risks overshadowing the work undertaken globally by the WHO on Non-Communicable Diseases."

Tom Tugendhat MP, chair of the foreign affairs committee, said Mr Mugabe's "version of goodwill is corruption, murder, and dictatorship".

Speaking to Sky News, Mr Tugendhat said: "He has caused famine in one of the most productive lands in the world. It's hard to see how this aligns with the values the WHO purports to hold.

"There are many other excellent people across the continent of Africa who have done so much for others it is wrong that one of history's greatest thieves should be so honoured."

Meanwhile, Supreme Court of Zimbabwe advocate Fadzayi Mahere told Sky News the appointment "makes a complete mockery of our public health system which is completely in crisis".

She said: "We cannot understand what criteria was used by the WHO in coming up with this appointment."

Defending his decision, Dr Tedros said Mr Mugabe could use the role "to influence his peers in his region".

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

The honour drew a scathing response from two dozen organisations including the World Heart Federation, Action Against Smoking and Cancer Research UK.

In a statement they highlighted Mr Mugabe's "long track record of human rights violations" and said health officials "were shocked and deeply concerned".

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.

Dr Tedros is an Ethiopian who became the WHO's first African director-general in July, replacing Margaret Chan who stepped down after 10 years of service.

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes