President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has been appointed as a “goodwill ambassador” of the World Health Organization (WHO), to help tackle non-communicable diseases.
New WHO head Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised Zimbabwe for its commitment to public health.
However, critics say Zimbabwe’s healthcare system has collapsed, with the president and many of his senior ministers going abroad for treatment.
They say that staff are often unpaid and medicines are in short supply.
Dr Tedros, who is Ethiopian, is the first African to lead the WHO and replaced Margaret Chan, who stepped down from her 10-year post in June.
He was elected with a mandate to tackle perceived politicisation in the organization.
The WHO head praised Zimbabwe as “a country that places universal health coverage and health promotion at the centre of its policies to provide healthcare to all”.
But U.S.-based campaign group Human Rights Watch said it was an embarrassment to give the ambassador role to Mr Mugabe given his record on human rights.
“If you look at Zimbabwe, Mugabe’s corruption, his utter mismanagement of the economy has devastated health services there,” said executive director Kenneth Roth.
“Indeed, you know, Mugabe himself travels abroad for his health care. He’s been to Singapore three times this year already. His senior officials go to South Africa for their health care.
“When you go to Zimbabwean hospitals, they lack the most basic necessities.”
“The idea of hailing Mr Mugabe “as any kind of example of positive contribution to health care is absolutely absurd,” he added.