Activists have said that the decision "cannot be justified"

Health Minister Simon Harris has criticised the 'bizarre' and 'offensive' decision by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to name Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe as a goodwill ambassador. 

The African leader has long faced international sanctions over his government's human rights abuses.

WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, however, says Mugabe could use the role 'to influence his peers in his region' over the issue of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart attacks and strokes.

Simon Harris took to Twitter to slam the decision:

Human rights groups and other activists expressed shock and concern over the decision.

A number of international organisations dedicated to tackling NCDs - including the World Heart Federation and NCD Alliance - issued a joint statement criticising the decision.

They highlighted the Zimbabwe leader's "long track record of human rights violations and undermining the dignity of human beings", adding that the appointment "cannot be justified".

A spokesperson for Zimbabwe's main opposition party Democratic Change called the decision  'laughable' and an 'insult', suggesting: "Mugabe trashed our health delivery system."

The Physicians for Human Rights group has previously reported that the health system in the country has 'utterly collapsed' under Mugabe's government.