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Mugabe reconsidered

UPDATE 11:46 a.m.

After widespread shock and condemnation, the head of the World Health Organization said Saturday he is "rethinking" his appointment of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe as a "goodwill ambassador."

In a new tweet, WHO director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus said that "I'm listening. I hear your concerns. Rethinking the approach in light of WHO values. I will issue a statement as soon as possible."

The 93-year-old Mugabe, the world's oldest head of state, has long been criticized at home for going overseas for medical treatment as Zimbabwe's once-prosperous economy falls apart. Mugabe also faces U.S. sanctions over his government's human rights abuses.


Shock and condemnation followed Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's naming as "goodwill ambassador" for the World Health Organization.

The 93-year-old Mugabe, the world's oldest head of state, faces U.S. sanctions over his government's human rights abuses and has long been criticized at home for going overseas for medical treatment as Zimbabwe's once-prosperous economy falls apart. 

"The decision to appoint Robert Mugabe as a WHO goodwill ambassador is deeply disappointing and wrong," said Dr. Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, a major British charitable foundation. "Robert Mugabe fails in every way to represent the values WHO should stand for."

Ireland's health minister, Simon Harris, called the appointment "offensive, bizarre." ''Not the Onion," tweeted the head of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, in a reference to the satirical news site.

With Mugabe on hand, WHO director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia announced the appointment at a conference in Uruguay this week on non-communicable diseases.

Tedros, who became WHO's first African director-general this year, said Mugabe could use the role "to influence his peers in his region" on the issue. He described Zimbabwe as "a country that places universal health coverage and health promotion at the centre of its policies." 

Two dozen health organizations released a statement slamming the appointment, saying officials were "shocked and deeply concerned" and citing his "long track record of human rights violations."

The groups said they had raised their concerns with Tedros on the sidelines of the conference, to no avail.

The southern African nation once was known as the region's prosperous breadbasket. But in 2008, the charity Physicians for Human Rights released a report documenting failures in Zimbabwe's health system, saying Mugabe's policies had led to a man-made crisis.

"The government of Robert Mugabe presided over the dramatic reversal of its population's access to food, clean water, basic sanitation and health care," the group concluded. Mugabe's policies led directly to "the shuttering of hospitals and clinics, the closing of its medical school and the beatings of health workers."



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