The World Health Organization said its director general will issue a statement Sunday on the naming of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe as a goodwill ambassador, amid speculation that the controversial move will be reversed.
A spokeswoman for the UN’s public health agency, Fadela Chaib, said an announcement on the Mugabe fracas would be made “in the coming hours”.
She declined to comment on whether WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus would retract the honorary role he gave earlier this week to Zimbabwe’s 93-year-old authoritarian leader, which triggered widespread outrage.
Tedros tweeted late Saturday that he was “rethinking” the decision and calls for its reversal have continued to mount. Activists, public health experts and key WHO donors like Britain, Canada and the United States have denounced a prospective role for Mugabe within the agency, saying Zimbabwe’s healthcare system has collapsed under his 37-year rule.
“The Mugabe appointment, coming at the end of (Tedros’s) first 100 days, was a misstep,” the director of the Global Health Institute at Harvard University, Ashish K. Jha, wrote in an email.
“Reversing will actually be a strong sign that the leadership listens and is willing to be responsive to views of the global public,” he added. The US ambassador to the United Nations during Barack Obama’s administration, Samantha Power, tweeted: “Tedros will surely revoke terrible appointment of Mugabe as goodwill ambassador, but damage is done.
“The only person whose health 93-yo Mugabe has looked out for in his 37 year reign is his own.” Richard Horton, the editor of the leading medical journal The Lancet said: “WHO DG stands for Director-General, not Dictator-General. Tedros, my friend, retract your decision, consult with colleagues, and rethink.”
Tedros, a former Ethiopian health minister, took charge of WHO in July. His election as the first African leader of the organization was billed as a key moment for the continent, where much of WHO’s work is based. But his decision to honor one of Africa’s most controversial leaders has raised questions about his leadership just four months into his tenure.