Director of world health body cancels job offer to Zimbabwe president

| October 25, 2017
Robert Mugabe

Robert Mugabe

(GIN)—The Ethiopian director-general of the World Health Organization has rescinded his appointment of President Robert Mugabe as Goodwill Ambassador after four days of heavy international pressure.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, whose own appointment sparked controversy in his home country, had appointed the Zimbabwean leader to the ceremonial position of honor. Tedros, who goes by his first name, apparently was unprepared for the firestorm the appointment would ignite.

“I have listened carefully to all who have expressed their concerns, and heard the different issues that they have raised,” he said in a statement issued Sunday. “I have also consulted with the government of Zimbabwe and we have concluded that this decision (to rescind the appointment) is in the best interests of the World Health Organization. “

The dismissal of President Mugabe was welcomed in some corners but left many in the global health community confounded by the new director’s sure-to-be-challenged appointment. They wondered how the former foreign minister of Ethiopia—his country’s top diplomat—did not anticipate the lightning rod that Mr. Mugabe’s appointment would be for his many critics.

Tedros has not publicly explained why he thought the 93-year-old Mugabe was the right person to task with promoting the fight against cancer and heart disease to other African nations.

Outcomes for both cancer and heart disease are poor in Mugabe’s nation. In the case of cancer, for example, Zimbabwe is one of four African countries with high rates of cancer morbidity and mortality linked to poor screening, diagnosis, delays in treatment, shortage of facilities and patient awareness.  Some 3,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in Zimbabwe annually and a mortality rate of 64 percent has been recorded.

As to coronary heart disease, it is now one of the top causes of death in Zimbabwe linked to changing lifestyles, urbanization and increases in smoking, obesity and diabetes.

“We have a lot of people in our hospitals who are losing their lives because of a lack of basic things: drugs, health care worker shortages, poor public health care funding, and quite a lot of other things,” said Dr. Fortune Nyamande, head of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association.

The diplomatic misstep comes as WHO struggles to recover its reputation tarnished by its slowness in tackling the Ebola epidemic that killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa from 2014-2015 under Tedros’ predecessor Margaret Chan.

At his nomination, Dr. Tedros was accused of mishandling an outbreak of cholera. Still, he was unanimously supported by the African Union, headed at the time by President Mugabe.

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Category: Africa Briefs

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