After much outrage, the World Health Organization will rescinded its choice to appoint Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe as a goodwill ambassador.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in statement: "I have decided to rescind the appointment" of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe as who goodwill ambassador.”
The appointment had sparked global outrage, while several former and current WHO staff said privately they were appalled at the "poor judgment" and "miscalculation" by Tedros.
Tedros was elected the first African head of WHO in May.
Mugabe was head of the African Union (AU) when the bloc endorsed Tedros - a former health and foreign minister of Ethiopia - over other African candidates for the top post, without any real regional contest or debate, they said.
Mugabe, 93, is blamed in the West for destroying Zimbabwe's economy and numerous human rights abuses during his 37 years leading the country as either president or prime minister.
WHO named Mugabe to the largely ceremonial post at a high-level WHO meeting on chronic diseases, attended by both men, in Uruguay on Wednesday.
Tedros praised Zimbabwe as "a country that places universal health coverage and health promotion at the center of its policies to provide health care to all".
The US, which has imposed sanctions on Mugabe for alleged human rights violations, said it was "disappointed."
"He (Tedros) has to remember where his funding comes from," said one health official who declined to be identified.
"This appointment clearly contradicts the United Nations ideals of respect for human rights and human dignity," the State Department said.
Britain said Mugabe's appointment as a goodwill ambassador for non-communicable diseases in Africa was "surprising and disappointing" and that it risked overshadowing the WHO's global work.
Health and human rights leaders chimed in. "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." ''Mugabe corruption decimates Zimbabwe health care," tweeted the head of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth.
Two dozen organizations — including the World Heart Federation 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.
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.