The choice of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe as a World Health Organization (WHO) goodwill ambassador has been criticised by several organisations including the British government.
It described his selection as “surprising and disappointing” given his country’s rights record, and warned it could overshadow the WHO’s work.
The opposition in Zimbabwe and campaign groups also criticised the move.
The WHO head said he was “rethinking his approach in light of WHO values”.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had previously praised Zimbabwe for its commitment to public health.
He said it was a country that “places universal health coverage and health promotion at the centre of its policies to provide health care to all”.
Mr Mugabe’s appointment as a “goodwill ambassador” to help tackle non-communicable diseases has attracted a chorus of criticism.
Image copyright GETTY IMAGES Zimbabwean doctors and nurses demonstrate in Harare (18 November 2008)
Image caption Critics have long argued that Zimbabwe’s health service is not meeting the needs of patients
The British government said it was all the more surprising given US and EU sanctions against him.
“We have registered our concerns” with the director general, a spokesman said.
“Although Mugabe will not have an executive role, his appointment risks overshadowing the work undertaken globally by the WHO on non-communicable diseases.”
Zimbabwe’s leader has been frequently taken to task over human rights abuses by the European Union and the US.
Critics say Zimbabwe’s health care system has collapsed, with staff often going without pay while medicines are in short supply.
Dr Tedros, who is Ethiopian, is the first African to lead the WHO . He was elected in May with a mandate to tackle perceived politicisation in the organisation.