Zimbabwe: ‘Medical Tourist’ Robert Mugabe Named Goodwill Ambassador for World Health Organisation [WHO]

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  • The appointment of President Robert Mugabe, who spends millions regularly flying to Singapore for medical attention, as Africa’s goodwill ambassador for the World Health Organisation (WHO) has been described as “absolutely absurd” by Zimbabwe Vigil and Restoration of Human Rights spokeswoman Salani Mutseyami. WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Mugabe landed the post on the strength of achievements his country registered in formulating policies that facilitate an inclusive and accessible health system.

Outrage As UN Honours Medical Tourist Mugabe

THE appointment of President Robert Mugabe as United Nations (UN) goodwill ambassador for health has stoked anger as the near-centenarian is charged with overseeing the collapse of his country’s health system and then flying abroad for treatment.

Mugabe, now 93, spends millions regularly flying to Singapore for even for minor medical attention, spurning crisis-hit local hospitals which opponents say are themselves in need of intensive care due to the incompetence of his four-decade rule.

And yet the Zanu PF leader was this week appointed goodwill ambassador for the UN’s World Health Organisation (WHO) at a conference underway in Uruguay.

The role is largely symbolic, but the symbolism of giving it to a man whose leadership of Zimbabwe has, critics say, coincided with a collapse of the country’s health service, and major human rights abuses.

Confirming the appointment, the WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said Mugabe landed the post on the strength of achievements Zimbabwe had registered in formulating policies that facilitate an inclusive and accessible health system.

“I am honoured to be joined by President Mugabe, of Zimbabwe, a country that places universal health coverage and health promotion at the centre of its policies to provide health care to all,” Tedros said addressing conference.

“Today I am also honoured to announce that President Mugabe has agreed to serve as a goodwill ambassador on NCDs for Africa to influence his peers in his region (Africa) to prioritise NCDs.”

Dr Tedros, who is Ethiopian, is the first African to lead the WHO. He was elected with a mandate to tackle perceived politicisation in the organisation.

Zimbabwean and international rights groups were outraged by the development.

According to Zimbabwe Vigil and Restoration of Human Rights, the appointment reflects WHO’s ignorance about critical situations prevailing in member states.

“That is absolutely absurd. It shows the lack of interest that the UN might have towards what is really going on in Zimbabwe,” said Salani Mutseyami, Zimbabwe Vigil and Restoration of Human Rights spokeswoman to the UK-based Telegraph newspaper.

“Mugabe actually travels to a foreign land where he gets medication on a regular basis. He does not get medication or go to the hospitals in Zimbabwe.

“If the leader has to jet off to another country to get medical attention that shows you he cannot get that in Zimbabwe.

“The whole health system is in tatters. So, I don’t know what political games are being played by the United Nations when they give such a man a platform.”

Over 12 organisations including the World Heart Federation, Action Against Smoking and Cancer Research United Kingdom condemned the appointment via a statement arguing that Mugabe’s appointment despite a long history of human rights abuse shocked the sector.

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

Zim Health Sector in Crisis

Despite the constitution guaranteeing health care, most Zimbabweans are struggling to enjoy that right as the country’s health sector is in shambles with service delivery affected by drug shortages, low employee moral owing to poor remuneration, obsolete and inadequate funding and crumbling infrastructure.

Central hospitals such as Harare and United Bulawayo Hospitals suspended elective surgeries early this year citing the absence of drugs needed to perform the procedures. Industrial actions have become regular as the sectors’ employees fight to improve their poor conditions of service.

Of-late, with the country suffering serious cash shortages, restocking of medicines has been adversely affected as suppliers struggle to secure the foreign currency needed to import raw materials and critical drugs.

“Nothing works in the state hospitals. We have almost no drugs, hardly any equipment works. Mugabe deserves to be condemned for dismantling Zimbabwe’s public health service,” the Telegraph quoted a local doctor in anonymity.

Mugabe, his family and cronies regularly fly abroad for treatment. The president in treated in Singapore, the country to which his daughter Bona also flew to for delivery of her first child.

Recently vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa was airlifted to South Africa for treatment after he suffered poisoning.

Opposition parties have constantly criticised Mugabe for depriving Zimbabweans of decent health services through incompetent governance, corruption and poor economic policies which have crippled the health system while he enjoys five-star treatment in Singapore.

Attempts by health professionals to highlight the plight of the sector have often attracted threats and punishment from the employer including withdrawal of salaries.

WHO Criticized for Naming Robert Mugabe As ‘Goodwill Ambassador’

The World Health Organization has named Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe as a ‘goodwill ambassador,’ drawing criticism from health and rights organizations. Zimbabwe’s health system has collapsed under Mugabe’s rule.

The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) came under fire Friday after it named Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe as a “goodwill ambassador.”

WHO Director General Tedros Ghebreyesus praised Mugabe at a conference on non-communicable diseases in Uruguay this week, saying the 93-year-old could use the new role to “influence his peers in his region.”

Zimbabwe is “a country that places universal health coverage and health promotion at the center of its policies to provide health care to all,” said Tedros.

Zimbabwe’s once prosperous economy has been devastated under Mugabe’s 37-year rule. Like many public services, the health system has collapsed, with hospitals lacking basic medical supplies and medicines, and nurses and doctors often go unpaid.

Critics point Mugabe’s need to seek medical assistance abroad as a testament to its crumbling health system.

More than two dozen medical organizations issued a statement saying they were “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.

The groups said they raised the issue with the WHO chief but their concerns were ignored.

Human rights groups also condemned the decision.

“Given Mugabe’s appalling human rights record, calling him a Goodwill Ambassador for anything embarrasses WHO and Doctor Tedros,” Iain Levine, program director at Human Rights Watch, said on Twitter.

According to WHO, non-communicable diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and respiratory illnesses are the leading cause of death and disability in the world, killing at least 36 million people every year.

The UN appoints goodwill ambassadors to draw attention to certain causes, but they hold little power.

Credits: AFP and AP