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Robert Mugabe as WHO goodwill ambassador – what went wrong?

Non-communicable diseases advocates sympathise with his inclusive inclinations, but have drawn the line at having Mugabe as their figurehead.

A few good things have come out of the debacle.

The international uproar has applied fresh diplomatic pressure on Mugabe and served to highlight the plight of his people.

The episode also put non-communicable diseases into headlines; NCDs are the leading cause of death and disability worldwide but they are misunderstood, under-funded, and under-researched.

The swift cancellation of the accolade was also a victory for civil society, and a rare example of a leader who is willing to listen and change their mind when wrong.

The unforced clanger has badly tarnished the WHO’s reputation, undermined its credibility, and raised serious questions about the new director’s judgement.

Seen in the context of his efforts to “seek broad support” and “high-level political leadership for health” his error is perhaps more understandable.

However, commendable efforts to include everyone on the journey to truly universal healthcare cannot come at the cost of condoning and legitimising despots and oppressive regimes.

Violence, political oppression, and corruption are anathema to the founding principles of the WHO: promoting the highest standards of mental, physical, and social well-being for all.

 

By Luke Allen. This article was first published by The Conversation

 

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