HARARE • The United Nations has come under criticism after naming Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe a "goodwill ambassador" to promote health causes despite the country's dire health crisis under his rule.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) had asked Mr Mugabe to serve in the role to help tackle non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart attacks, strokes and asthma across Africa.
Mr Mugabe, 93, was in Uruguay for the announcement last Wednesday by WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who said he was "honoured to announce that President Mugabe has agreed to serve as a goodwill ambassador on NCDs for Africa".
Dr Tedros hailed Zimbabwe as "a country that places universal health coverage and health promotion at the centre of its policies to provide health care to all".
Zimbabwe's healthcare system, like many of its public services, has collapsed under Mr Mugabe's authoritarian regime, with most hospitals out of stock of essential medicines and supplies, and staff regularly left unpaid. The appointment angered rights campaigners and opposition parties, who also accuse Mr Mugabe of violent repression, election rigging and presiding over the country's economic ruin.
"Given Mugabe's appalling human rights record, calling him a Goodwill Ambassador for anything embarrasses WHO and Doctor Tedros," said Mr Iain Levine, a programme director at Human Rights Watch, said on Twitter.
The main MDC opposition party said the appointment was "laughable". "The Zimbabwe health delivery system is in a shambolic state," spokesman Obert Gutu said.
WHO yesterday cited Zimbabwe's anti-tobacco record and efforts against non-communicable diseases as justifications for Mr Mugabe's appointment.