The World Health Organization (WHO) said Sunday it had rescinded the appointment of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe as goodwill ambassador amid public outcry.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement he made the decision after concluding it would be in the “best interests” of the organization.
“I have listened carefully to all who have expressed their concerns, and heard the different issues that they have raised,” said Tedros, who appointed Mugabe as goodwill ambassador to help tackle noncommunicable diseases in Africa.
The appointment sparked a chorus of criticism from human rights groups as well as from the British government, which described the move as “surprising and disappointing” given Zimbabwe’s rights record, as well as given U.S. and EU sanctions against Mugabe.
Tedros, a former Ethiopian foreign affairs minister and the WHO’s first director general elected directly by member countries, previously said Zimbabwe “places universal health coverage and health promotion at the center of its policies to provide health care to all.”
But critics argued that Zimbabwe’s health care system has collapsed under Mugabe’s 30-year rule. Human Rights Watch said that Zimbabwean hospitals lack the most basic necessities.
Director of biomedical research charity Wellcome Trust Jeremy Farrar said on Twitter he welcomed Tedros’ decision.
“Great leaders take time to listen to constructive debate, reflect and overturn bad decisions,” Farrar wrote, adding that Tedros “deserves all our support.”