HARARE – The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday appointed President Robert Mugabe as a global health ambassador for Africa to help governments tackle chronic diseases such as diabetes, stroke, cancer and heart disease.
Mugabe, Africa’s oldest ruler at 93, will work with national and local politicians to highlight the heavy economic and health burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), United Nations health agency said.
WHO director-general Tedros Ad-hanom Ghebreyesus said Mugabe’s appointment would enable governments to “strengthen our response together” to these “major public health challenges”.
NCDs and injuries are responsible for 43 million deaths each year, according to the WHO – almost 80 percent of all deaths worldwide – but the much of the premature death and disability they cause could be prevented with lifestyle-targeted measures.
Mugabe’s role will be to encourage policies aimed at reducing peoples’ exposure to the main risk factors – tobacco and alcohol use, unhealthy diets and lack of exercise.
WHO global ambassador roles are for an initial period of two years and are unpaid.
Foreign Affairs minister Walter Mzembi hailed the appointment.
“This is a major health diplomacy coup for Zimbabwe and should be celebrated given the adverse impact of NCDs on the well-being of Zimbabweans particularly cancers, high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and mental health diseases,” Mzembi told the Daily News from Montevideo yesterday.
“President Mugabe has in the past acquitted himself in health diplomacy, and most recently his advocacy for resource mobilisation for Ebola stricken countries, Liberia, Guniea, and Sierra Leone at the United Nations in 2015, is still very fresh and widely acknowledged by the beneficiary countries.”
He said it was on the back of this legacy that it was only appropriate to lobby for a distinguished role for him in the fight for NCDs, “which clearly need a champion in Africa.”
“NCDs command only a 1,2 percent funding share of the $38 billion budget for Health from overseas development assistance (ODA), some $377million only although they claim over 14 million lives a year
“Their invisibility on the global development agenda, requires a respected Statesman to champion the cause especially at this formative and conceptual stage of crafting a roadmap to the High Level Forum diarised for the United Nations 2018, General Assembly.
“Therefore the Montevideo Roadmap has been handed to the right pair of hands for its escalation to the African Union , through President Mugabe who is very passionate about NCDs, and delivered a very well received country report on Zimbabwe’s own efforts in this area,” Mzembi said.
The Montevideo Roadmap highlights the need for coordinated and coherent action from all sectors and the whole of society, as many of the main drivers of ill health lie outside the control of health ministries, systems and professionals.
Non-State actors, including civil so-ciety and industry, have important roles to play. – Daily News