Backlash against Mugabe’s appointment as WHO ‘goodwill ambassador’

From left, Russian Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez, Moroccan Princess Lalla Salma, Pan American Health Organisation president Clarissa Etienne, WHO European Regional Director Zsuzsanna Jakab and Secretary-General of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Houlin Zhao, pose for a family picture during the Global Conference on Noncommunicable diseases (NCD) at Mercosur headquarters in Montevideo on Wednesday. (AFP)
Updated 21 October 2017
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Backlash against Mugabe’s appointment as WHO ‘goodwill ambassador’

GENEVA: Shock and condemnation continued Saturday after Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe was named a “goodwill ambassador” for the World Health Organization by the agency’s first African leader.
The 93-year-old Mugabe, the world’s oldest head of state, has long been criticized at home for going overseas for medical treatment as Zimbabwe’s once-prosperous economy falls apart. Mugabe also faces US sanctions over his government’s human rights abuses.
“The decision to appoint Robert Mugabe as a WHO goodwill ambassador is deeply disappointing and wrong,” said Dr. Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, a major British charitable foundation. “Robert Mugabe fails in every way to represent the values WHO should stand for.”
Ireland’s health minister, Simon Harris, called the appointment “offensive, bizarre.” “Not the Onion,” tweeted the head of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, in a reference to the satirical news site.
With Mugabe on hand, WHO director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia announced the appointment at a conference in Uruguay this week on non-communicable diseases.
Tedros, who became WHO’s first African director-general this year, said Mugabe could use the role “to influence his peers in his region” on the issue. He described Zimbabwe as “a country that places universal health coverage and health promotion at the center of its policies.” A WHO spokeswoman confirmed the comments to The Associated Press.
Two dozen organizations — including the World Heart Federation, Action Against Smoking and Cancer Research UK — released a statement slamming the appointment, saying health officials were “shocked and deeply concerned” and citing his “long track record of human rights violations.”
The groups said they had raised their concerns with Tedros on the sidelines of the conference, to no avail.
UN agencies typically choose celebrities as ambassadors to draw attention to issues of concern, but they hold little actual power. They also can be fired. The comic book heroine Wonder Woman was removed from her honorary UN ambassador job in December following protests that a white, skimpily dressed American prone to violence was not the best role model for girls.
Zimbabwe’s government has not commented on Mugabe’s appointment, but a state-run Zimbabwe Herald newspaper headline called it a “new feather in president’s cap.”
The southern African nation once was known as the region’s prosperous breadbasket. But in 2008, the charity Physicians for Human Rights released a report documenting failures in Zimbabwe’s health system, saying Mugabe’s policies had led to a man-made crisis.
“The government of Robert Mugabe presided over the dramatic reversal of its population’s access to food, clean water, basic sanitation and health care,” the group concluded. Mugabe’s policies led directly to “the shuttering of hospitals and clinics, the closing of its medical school and the beatings of health workers.”
The 93-year-old Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, has come under criticism at home for his frequent overseas travels that have cost impoverished Zimbabwe millions of dollars. His repeated visits to Singapore have heightened concerns over his health, even as he pursues re-election next year.
The US in 2003 imposed targeted sanctions, a travel ban and an asset freeze against Mugabe and close associates, citing his government’s rights abuses and evidence of electoral fraud.


Rebel attack in Congo Ebola zone kills 18

Congolese police patrols in Kinshasa, Congo, in this May 17, 2017 file photo. (AP)
Updated 24 September 2018
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Rebel attack in Congo Ebola zone kills 18

  • The attack underscores the challenges the government and health organizations face in tackling Ebola in an area where years of instability has undermined locals’ confidence in the authorities

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo: At least 14 civilians and four soldiers were killed on Saturday in a six-hour attack by rebels on the town of Beni in eastern Congo, the army and local officials said, disrupting efforts to contain an Ebola epidemic in the area.
The latest outbreak of the deadly disease in Democratic Republic of Congo has been focused in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, which have been a tinder box of armed rebellion and ethnic killing since two civil wars in the late 1990s.
Militants believed to belong to the Allied Democratic Forces, a Ugandan Islamist group active in eastern Congo, clashed with Congolese troops in Beni, a town of several hundred thousand people, local civil society leader Kizito Bin Hangi said by telephone.
“Beni is ungovernable this morning. Several protests have been declared in the town where the people express their anger with consternation,” he said.
In addition to the known fatalities, dozens of civilians were wounded as they fled the violence, which broke out in the early hours of Saturday evening and lasted until midnight, Bin Hangi added.
During a news conference in Beni on Sunday, a representative of the Congolese army said four soldiers had also been killed in the attack.
Spokesman Mak Hazukay confirmed the civilian death toll of 14, but said six civilians and four military personnel had been wounded — lower figures than estimated by the civil society leader.
The attack underscores the challenges the government and health organizations face in tackling Ebola in an area where years of instability has undermined locals’ confidence in the authorities.
Community unrest in the wake of the latest violence prompted the Health Ministry to suspend temporarily the field work it has been carrying out in Beni as part of its Ebola response.
“Many inhabitants of the town of Beni took to the streets this Sunday to protest against the growing insecurity in the zone. The field work of the response will resume once calm returns to the town,” the ministry said in its daily Ebola report.
The latest outbreak, which causes haemmorhagic fever, vomiting and diarrhea, is believed to have killed 99 people since July and infected another 48.