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story.lead_photo.caption FILE - In this file photo dated Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe during his meeting with South African President Jacob Zuma, at the Presidential Guesthouse in Pretoria, South Africa.

JOHANNESBURG -- The head of the World Health Organization on Sunday revoked his appointment of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe as a "goodwill ambassador" after the choice drew widespread criticism.

WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus, speaking last week at a conference in Uruguay on non-communicable diseases, said that Mugabe, who was present, had agreed to be a goodwill ambassador on the issue.

After an outcry by international leaders and health experts, Tedros said in a statement that he had reflected and changed his mind about the appointment, calling it in the best interests of the U.N. health agency. Tedros said he had consulted with the Zimbabwean government about his decision.

The 93-year-old Mugabe, the world's oldest head of state, is overseeing a national health care system that critics say is deteriorating. Mugabe also faces U.S. sanctions over his government's human-rights abuses.

Zimbabwe's government said it respected Tedros' decision to withdraw Mugabe's appointment.

Foreign Affairs Minister Walter Mzembi told state broadcaster ZBC that the U.N. health agency "benefited tremendously" from the original decision to name Mugabe to the post, citing the global attention that resulted.

"On a name-recognition scale, this name beats them all, but it is our business to protect its brand equity from unnecessary besmirching," Mzembi said. "So on the balance, it is wiser to let go."

Jeremy Farrar, the director of Wellcome Trust, a British charitable foundation, praised the appointment revocation in a statement.

"Great leaders take time to listen to constructive debate, reflect and overturn bad decisions," Farrar wrote. "Dr. Tedros deserves all our support to ensure he and WHO build a global health movement that is inclusive and works to improve health for everyone based on universal values of fairness and equality."

The heads of U.N. agencies and the U.N. secretary-general typically choose celebrities and other prominent people as ambassadors to draw attention to global issues of concern. Singer-actress Selena Gomez was a teenager when she was named a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, and Emma Watson, who famously played Hermione Granger in eight Harry Potter films, was appointed to promote the empowerment of young women. The ambassadors hold little actual power.

Information for this article was contributed by staff members of The Associated Press.

A Section on 10/23/2017

Print Headline: WHO withdraws envoy appointment

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