Mugabe WHO honour bizarre

Zimbabwean activists condemn 'absurd' World Health Organization honour for Robert Mugabe

The Telegraph (UK) by Roland Oliphant, additional reporting by Peta Thornycroft

20 October 2017

Zimbabwean human rights activists have accused the World Health Organization of hypocrisy after it appointed Robert Mugabe as a goodwill ambassador.

Mr Mugabe, who regularly flies abroad for his own medical treatment and has been accused of running his country's health system into the ground, received the honour at a conference on non communicable diseases in Montevideo, the capital of  Uruguay, on Wednesday.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the WHO, the branch of the United Nations responsible for health care, said Mr Mugabe had been chosen to advocate for better healthcare throughout Africa.  

"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," Dr Tedros [who is from Ethiopia and the first African to head the UN’s health agency] said in an address to the 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 to prioritize NCDs."

The decision drew outrage from Zimbabwean opposition and human rights activists, who say Mr Mugabe's government has left hospitals so short of medicine that patients are often required to buy their own drugs prior to operations.

"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, a spokeswoman for the campaign groups Zimbabwe Vigil and Restoration of Human Rights.

"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," she added.  

"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," she said.  

A doctor from the city of Bulawayo, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said: “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.” 

In January this year the Zimbabwean Medical Association asked the country's national bank to release emergency funds to alleviate an acute shortage of critical drugs for people with chronic conditions, including insulin. 

People queue for water during a cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe in 2008. Critics say Mr Mugabe has overseen the decay of the country's healthcare system since he came to power n 1980

People queue for water during a cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe in 2008. Critics say Mr Mugabe has overseen the decay of the country's healthcare system since he came to power in 1980 Credit: AARON UFUMELI/EPA

Last year Harare central hospital suspended elective surgery and said it would only be treating life threatening conditions and maternity cases because of a shortage of medical supplies.

Mr Mugabe has travelled to Singapore for medical treatment at least three times this year, most recently in July.  

He is not the only Zimbabwean politician to seek treatment abroad. 

Emmerson Mnangagwa, a vice president and Mr Mugabe's heir apparent, was treated for suspected poisoning in South Africa earlier this year. 

Martin Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, has received treatment for cancer in South Africa. 

Robert Mugabe, 93, has ruled Zimbabwe since the end of white minority rule in 1980.

Opponents say he has overseen economic mismanagement that has brought Zimbabwe's economy to the brink of collapse and attempted to silence political opposition through violence.

He clashed with Tony Blair's government over a violent campaign of land seizures against white farmers in the early 2000s and is banned from Britain and the European Union for human rights abuses.

He has said he intends to stand for re-election at presidential elections next year. 

The World Health Organization did not respond to an emailed request to comment on Friday. Phone calls to the Zimbabwean government's spokesman went unanswered.

Letter to various editors:

Subject: Mugabe WHO "Goodwill" Ambassador??

Dear Sir,

What planet is the World Health Organisation on to make Robert Mugabe their “Goodwill” Ambassador?

I recently retired as an Animal Welfare Inspector working for Veterinarians for Animal Welfare Zimbabwe (VAWZ) and our work obviously took us into many of the more remote areas of Zimbabwe.

There the Community Clinics are not even able to offer their many patients Paracetamol or a sticking plaster.

Under Zimbabwe’s Medicine Control Council rules, we were allowed to collect out of date medicines and equipment from some of the Accident & Emergency Departments (A&E)s in Harare in order to treat animals. 

As a result we kept a large box in the back of our truck with items that we could pass on to the struggling clinics – these would include children’s cough mixture, eye drops, plasters , bandages, saline drips – all were received with such gratitude by their dedicated but demoralised staff.

Mugabe as the WHO’s Goodwill Ambassador? – I don’t think so!

Meryl Harrison

United Kingdom