Cape Town - Twitter was abuzz on Sunday following the decision by the head of the World Health Organisation to withdraw his appointment of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe as a "goodwill ambassador". Zimbabwe's government said it respected the turnabout and that the United Nations health agency "benefited tremendously" from the attention. "Dr. Tedros deserves all our support to ensure he and WHO build a global health movement that is inclusive and works to improve health for everyone based on universal values of fairness and equality".
"I have chose to rescind the appointment", Ghebreyesus said Saturday in a statement, saying he had "reflected" on his decision.
"He has undermined civil society, led to economic collapse, and advocated for the tobacco industry; this is the opposite of what is needed from political leadership in public health".
The British Government described Mr Mugabe's appointment as "surprising and disappointing, particularly in light of the current U.S. and European Union sanctions against him".
World Health Organization yesterday cited Zimbabwe's anti-tobacco record and efforts against non-communicable diseases as justifications for Mr Mugabe's appointment.
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Mr Tedros, an Ethiopian who became the WHO's first African director-general this year, had said Mugabe could use his role "to influence his peers in the region". Kenneth Roth, the head of Human Rights Watch, tweeted: 'Mugabe corruption decimates Zimbabwe health care'.
The groups said they had raised their concerns with Mr Tedros on the sidelines of the conference, to no avail.
The 28 health groups said they "are 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".
But Tendai Biti, a former finance minister in Zimbabwe, said Mugabe's appointment showed the World Health Organization did not understand the country's political reality.
United Nations agencies often name high profile personalities as goodwill ambassadors to draw attention to their work.
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Zimbabwe's government hasn't commented on the appointment, but the state-run Zimbabwe Herald newspaper called it a "new feather in the president's cap".
Physicians for Human Rights found his government had "presided over the dramatic reversal of its population's access to food, clean water, basic sanitation and health care".
The report said Mr Mugabe's policies led directly to "the shuttering of hospitals and clinics, the closing of its medical school and the beatings of health workers".
Mugabe, 93, has always been criticised at home for going overseas for medical treatment as Zimbabwe's once-prosperous economy falls apart.
The US in 2003 imposed targeted sanctions, a travel ban and an asset freeze against Mugabe and close associates, citing his government's rights abuses and evidence of electoral fraud.
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