There was controversy in public health circles on the weekend after the head of the World Health Organisation Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu proudly announced last week that Zimbabwean thug and kleptocrat Robert Mugabe would be a “goodwill ambassador” for the body. Mugabe has presided over a health disaster in Zimbabwe — lifespan fell catastrophically in the 1980s and despite recovering in recent years remains below its early 1980s level. After a backlash, Tedros first said he was reconsidering the appointment, then overnight announced Mugabe was being dumped.

Thing is, though, it’s not inappropriate for the WHO to appoint a tyrant as a “goodwill ambassador” (whatever that is). Tedros himself was a protege of Ethiopian dictator Meles Zenawi. WHO is riddled with corruption: its staff spend over $200 million a year on luxury travel, according to internal documents — nearly three times what it spends on AIDS and hepatitis — and a recent UN audit found a surge in misconduct such as fraud and sexual harassment within WHO in 2015. There’s also the Organisation’s habit of banning the public and the media from its meetings. Corruption, misuse of resources, lack of transparency — no wonder Tedros thought Mugabe would be a perfect fit in WHO.

Peter Fray

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