Criticism has been launched at the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) after it named Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe among their “goodwill ambassadors” at a conference in Montevideo, Uruguay this week. Meanwhile Zimbabwe’s health system is failing and hospitals have collapsed, due to lack of basic medicines and medical supplies.

WHO names Robert Mugabe a ‘goodwill ambassador’

A conference relating to non-communicable diseases was held in Uruguay this week, where the director general of the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Ghebreyesus, named 93-year-old Mugabe among their “goodwill ambassadors.” Ghebreyesus said the Zimbabwean President could use his new role in an effort to “influence his peers” in the region.

He went on to state that Zimbabwe places health promotion and universal health coverage in the heart of the country’s policies while providing health care to its people.

Zimbabwe’s healthcare system is in ruins

Meanwhile, and as reported by the BBC, the once prosperous economy in Zimbabwe has failed completely under Mugabe’s 37-year rule. Among many of the country’s public services, Zimbabwe’s health system is in a state of collapse, with hospitals seeing severe shortages of medicine and medical supplies and doctors and nurses often going unpaid.

Nomination of Robert Mugabe is an ‘embarrassment’

Among the opposition to his nomination, campaign group Human Rights Watch (HRW) calls Mugabe’s "goodwill ambassador" role “an embarrassment,” due to his mismanagement of Zimbabwe’s economy and its failing health services.

Kenneth Roth of HRW pointed to the fact that Mugabe himself often seeks medical assistance overseas due to Zimbabwe’s failing health system, as do many of his officials. Roth went on to add that hospitals in Zimbabwe lack even the most basic necessities.

Deutsche Welle quotes Iain Levine of HRW as saying with the Zimbabwean President’s “appalling human rights record, naming Mugabe as any kind of “goodwill ambassador” is embarrassing for both WHO and Tedros himself.

The MDC, Mugabe’s main opposition party, has also condemned the move by WHO, with spokesman Obert Gutu saying the health delivery system in Zimbabwe is in a “shambolic state.” Gutu added that it is an insult, as Mugabe has trashed the health system, allowing the public hospitals in the country to collapse.

WHO has said non-communicable diseases, including heart disease, cancer, respiratory diseases, and diabetes are the leading cause of disability and death worldwide, killing around 36 million annually. The group reportedly appoints goodwill ambassadors in an effort to draw attention to particular causes, although these ambassadors apparently hold little power.