WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom announced on Sunday (22 October) that he had "listened carefully to all who have expressed their concerns", after eyebrows were raised across the globe at Mugabe's appointment.
The day before, he had said he was "rethinking" Mugabe's role.
I’m listening. I hear your concerns. Rethinking the approach in light of WHO values. I will issue a statement as soon as possible— Tedros Adhanom (@DrTedros) October 21, 2017
Mugabe, who has become an international pariah during his nearly three decades leading Zimbabwe, had been unveiled on Wednesday (18 November), when Adhanom said at an event in Uruguay: "I am honoured to be joined by President Mugabe, of Zimbabwe, a country that places universal health coverage and health promotion at the centre of its policies... [and] to announce that President Mugabe has agreed to serve as a goodwill ambassador on NCDs [non-communicable diseases] for Africa to influence his peers in his region."
Nicole Yost, head of healthcare at Porter Novelli in London, said she was "shocked" to hear of Mugabe's appointment: "It is hard to imagine a worse candidate."
"It is good that the decision has been reversed but this appointment should never had been made. The episode has been reputationally damaging for an organisation that does so much good," Yost went on to say.
One PR professional on Twitter praised the way in which Adhanom went about reversing the decision, while another declared: "Common sense prevailed."
Good ownership of the u-turn by the DG. Have to wonder where the PR advice was throughout though. Should never have made it to announcement— Lorraine Homer (@misslhomer) October 22, 2017
Wrong decision to select. Right decision to deselect. Common sense prevailed though it took a chorus to make the change.— Anne-Marie Batson (@AnnemarieBatson) October 22, 2017
Angie Wiles, founder of virtual healthcare comms agency The Difference Collective, commented: "Whilst you can appreciate why the WHO considered him for the role given his increasing focus on treating and preventing communicable diseases, 'fame' and 'reputation' are very different and Mugabe is most definitely famous for all the wrong things."
Another PR, speaking on Twitter, had a less serious take on the affair.
An (unintentional) act of genius. Anyone they select next can only be an improvement.— Cathal Morrow (@quingentipr) October 23, 2017
Adhanom has since retweeted a post praising the manner in which he handled the volte-face.