Africa

The WHO Takes Back Robert Mugabe's Goodwill Ambassador Appointment

More than 30 health organizations said they were "shocked and deeply concerned" about Mugabe's appointment.

The WHO Takes Back Robert Mugabe's Goodwill Ambassador Appointment
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After a wave of criticism, the World Health Organization took back its latest "goodwill ambassador" appointment.

That title was given to Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe. He's headed Zimbabwe's government since 1980. For years, he's been under international sanctions for human rights violations and eroding the nation's democratic process.

Part of Mugabe's infamy both inside Africa and out stems from his effort to redistribute farmland owned and operated by white Zimbabweans — the descendants of European colonizers. However, Mugabe's effort backfired as those farms — once the nation's economic backbone — saw a dramatic decline that contributed to a food shortage and helped tank Zimbabwe's economy.

In response to Mugabe's appointment, nearly 30 health organizations signed a joint statement saying they were "shocked and deeply concerned to hear of this appointment, given President Mugabe's long track record of human rights violations and undermining the dignity of human beings."

Mugabe's political opponents were quick to point out Zimbabwe's health system is in shambles. Mugabe himself, who is in his 90s, travels abroad to receive medical care.

The WHO director general said Mugabe was chosen due to Zimbabwe's prioritizing universal health coverage and health promotion in domestic policy. But he acknowledged the backlash on Twitter, and by Sunday he'd rescinded the appointment. 

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The role of goodwill ambassador is mostly symbolic. Ambassadors attract public attention and funding to combat global issues.

Mugabe's appointment would have put focus on noncommunicable diseases, or NCDs, in Africa — diseases that can't be transmitted and that are not caused by infectious agents. According to the WHO, NCDs account for 70 percent of all deaths worldwide.