WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he had “listened carefully” to the criticism, consulted with the Zimbabwean government and “concluded that this decision is in the best interests” of WHO.
Dr Tedros added: “I thank everyone who has voiced their concerns and shared their thoughts. I depend on constructive debate to help and inform the work I have been elected to do.”
The director general initially announced the honour at a conference in Uruguay, praising Zimbabwe for its commitment to public health.
He also suggested the 93-year-old could use the role “to influence his peers in his region”.
The appointment was slammed by opposition politicians who said Mr Mugabe had “trashed” the country’s health system and would regularly travel abroad for treatment.
Two dozen organisations – including the World Heart Federation, Action Against Smoking and Cancer Research UK – issued a statement in which they highlighted the Zimbabwean leader’s “long track record of human rights violations”.
Meanwhile, the British Government described the appointment as “surprising and disappointing, particularly in light of the current US and EU sanctions against him”.