An appointment by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in the past week has questioned the international platform’s credibility and authenticity.
Appointing Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe as the goodwill ambassador of the campaign organized by WHO for the prevention of non-communicable diseases has triggered global outrage. The WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced the decision on Wednesday at a high level conference on non-communicable diseases (NCD alliance) in Uruguay. Tedros hailed Zimbabwe as a ‘country that places universal health coverage and health promotion at the centre of its policies to provide healthcare to all’ and said that Mugabe could leverage the high profile role to influence his peers in his region’. However, Tedros who is the first African head of the WHO faced widespread anger after his announcement. Several international groups including the 28 member countries of the NCD alliance, Human Rights Watch, UN Watch, World Heart Federation and Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) strongly opposed the decision while countries like the US, Britain and Canada came out with harsh criticisms and threatening. Zimbabwe’s 93-year old authoritarian leader remained in power for the past 37 years as the country’s Prime Minister and President. According to the member nations, the dictator faces strong opposition including sanctions for his brutal human rights and violations and was therefore unfit to place someone with blood-stained hands at the forefront of the campaign. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s remark that Mugabe’s appointment ‘was a bad April Fool’s joke’, encompasses all the severity of the opposition. Ultimately, the international organization had to forgo Mugabe’s ‘goodwill’.
About 830 women die every day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Half of the three lakh women who lose their lives, reside in the Sub-Saharan Africa that includes Zimbabwe. Maternal mortality ratio reached 960 per one lakh live births in Zimbabwe during 2006-2011. Almost 47 per cent of these deaths are found to be caused by preventable reasons. Every year, about 70, 000 abortions takes place in the country. Mugabe government that said during the African Union summit in 2015 that women were mere machines for childbirth, haven’t done anything in this regard. In the first two decades of Mugabe’s tenure, the health care systems witnessed growth. However, in 2000 with the collapse of the economy, the health sector declined with staff left with no salaries and hospitals, with no medicines. Mugabe himself has been undertaking frequent foreign trips for his treatment for the last three decades.
Wrecking the health sector and quashing the voices of dissent, Mugabe’s sole focus has been in amassing wealth for himself and his kin. His wife Grace testifies that he sleeps with his one eye open. In 1983, Mugabe’s Fifth Brigade massacred 20, 000 Ndebele in Matabeleland for backing his political rival Joshua Nkomo. He introduced a controversial land reform through which he seized the majority of white-owned lands for his family and supporters. According to the United Nations estimates, Operation Murambatsvina (Move the Rubbish), a campaign started by the Zimbabwean government in 2005 to forcibly clear the slum areas across the country, directly affected 700, 000 people leading to the loss of their livelihood and indirectly affected around 2.4 million people. The media have strictly been censored for preventing the leak of such reports and data among the people. Mugabe’s appointment comes amidst the sharp reactions by the international community against such ruthless governance with the nations including the US resorting to sanctions on the Mugabe family as well as freezing their accounts. The ridicule of some western media that the WHO chief might have decided to appoint Mugabe after seeing the official media of Zimbabwe, is relevant. Political observers point out that it was a favour and nothing else that might have prompted Tedros for such an ‘April Fool’s program’. It was Zimbabwe who backed Tedros, infamous for his regressive reforms like Mugabe while serving as the Health Minister of Ethiopia, to get elevated to the present position. China that is currently relied on by both the nations had also supported the decision then. It’s the reward in return that has shamed the World Health Organisation. The new chief had assumed charge when the Ebola outbreak that claimed 11, 000 lives in West Africa two years ago, over eight lakh suspected cases of cholera detected in Yemen and a Plague epidemic that killed nearly a 100 people in two months in Madagascar, had brought shame to the WHO. Even while the rest of the world watches on curiously as to what trick Tedros might take out to improve the reputation of the organization, he has already failed them. Who will now treat the ‘global doctor’ that takes care of the health and wellbeing of the world population?