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Mugabe 'never wanted' WHO role because of smoking

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe would not have accepted the role of World Health Organization (WHO) goodwill ambassador because his country was a "world-famed" tobacco producer, the state-owned Herald newspaper quotes the veteran leader's spokesman George Charamba as saying.

Mr Mugabe had learned of the appointment through the news, and would have considered any formal request to serve as goodwill ambassador an "awkward one," Mr Charamba added.

The WHO had a clear stance against tobacco, but Mr Mugabe would not have acted contrary to Zimbabwe's national interest by campaigning against growing and selling it because it was the nation's main foreign currency earner, he said.

Mr Mugabe would not agree to Zimbabwe stopping tobacco production for as long as "there are people who avidly smoke it and demand it" and for as long as "there are more sinful liquids that the rest of the world manufacture and sell", including whisky and beer which account for more deaths than smoking, Mr Charamba was quoted as saying.

WHO director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus - an Ethiopian who is the first African to hold the post - announced Mr Mugabe's appointment last week, saying he could could use the role "to influence his peers in his region" to tackle non-communicable diseases.

But he reversed the appointment after widespread condemnation, including from the UK government and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

During the first 20 years of his 37-year rule, Mr Mugabe widely expanded health care, but the system has badly been affected by the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy since 2000.

Staff often go without pay, medicines are in short supply, and Mr Mugabe, who has outlived the average life expectancy in his country by three decades, travels abroad for medical treatment.

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