Former French health minister joins WHO, stirs controversy at home

France  AFPLucas Barioulet
JAN 6, 2021 LISTEN
© AFP/Lucas Barioulet

Former French health minister Agnès Buzyn announced Tuesday her appointment to the World Health Organization (WHO), where she will be in charge of monitoring multilateral issues. This has provoked criticism from some members of the opposition who accuse her, alongside other highranking ministers, of mishandling the Covid-19 crisis.

"I confirm having joined the WHO Director's office of Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on 4 January," said Agnès Buzyn on Tuesday confirming the piece published by the Opinion news website the same day.

Buzyn will be based in Geneva and her mission will be to "mobilise political leaders" at the "highest level", to "strengthen the participation" of the organisation in international bodies and "internally to coordinate the health diplomacy" of the WHO, currently confronted with the coronavirus pandemic.

This appointment marks a new stage in 58 year-old Buzyn's career. Specialising in leukaemia and marrow transplants, she was unknown to the general public when she was appointed French health minister in May 2017 as part of former French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe's cabinet.

In February 2020, at the very beginning of the coronavirus epidemic, she was forced to step down under pressure by President Emmanuel Macron to replace Benjamin Griveaux, the LREM party candidate for Mayor of Paris who was forced to withdraw after a sex-tape affair.

At the end of a "calamitous campaign", the former minister, who confided in the middle of the municipal elections that she had left her ministry "crying", came third in the second round and had to settle for a term as a municipal councillor in the 17th arrondissement of Paris.

In an indepth article with her published by Le Monde newspaper the day after the first round Buzyn admitted that she had wanted to "put an end to this masquerade" of the elections before they were held because of the "looming epidemic", an expression she later regretted.

Her appointment to the WHO was criticised Tuesday by several political representatives.

The president of the far-right National Rally Party (RN - Rassemblement National), Marine Le Pen, said she saw in the nomination of Buzyn "the reward for her incompetence, or worse, the way to buy the silence of a minister who had revealed the unpreparedness of the government to the pandemic."

Far-left France Unbowed (LFI - La France insoumise) deputy Bastien Lachaud, for his part, critisised the former minister who he said "deserted Paris" thanks to an "oligarchy" where "nullity, defeat and cowardice are rewarded".

Buzyn has been targeted along with several other high ranking ministers by legal action launched in July 2020, for mishandling the Covid crisis, currently under scrutiny by the Republican Court of Justice (CJR).

(with AFP)