Merck Foundation has commenced the 8th Merck Africa Asia Luminary with African First making a commitment to build healthcare capacity in more countries

Merck Foundation CEO Senator Dr. Rasha Kelej during the Inaugural session of the 8th Edition of the ”MERCK FOUNDATION AFRICA ASIA LUMINARY” 2021 Online Videoconference


Merck Foundation CEO Senator Dr. Rasha Kelej declared during her organisation’s inaugural session of the 8th Edition of the ”MERCK FOUNDATION AFRICA ASIA LUMINARY” 2021 Online Videoconference, that 1,100 doctors across 42 countries in Africa and Asia in infertility specialty and also reproductive health is a great milestone because most of them are the first specialists in their countries.

Opening the luminary, Senator Dr. Kelej said Merck Foundation has been working in various countries to build healthcare capacity in many critical and underserved medical fields such as; Diabetes, cardiovascular, endocrinology, Cancer, Research, Fertility Care, Women Health, Sexual & Reproductive care, Respiratory Medicines, and Acute Medicines.

“More than 1,100 doctor from 42 countries have benefited from Merck Foundation scholarship in the above fields, and more will join in the next few years to benefit from more scholarships,” she said.

Senator Dr. Kelej indicated that the 8th Luminary brings together 13 African First Ladies who are ‘Merck More Than a Mother’ Ambassadors, to discuss strategies to build healthcare capacity, respond to the Covid-19 pandemic, provide the necessary training to establish a strong platform of experts in many important and critical specialties in their countries in collaboration with their offices and Ministries of Health.

“We will also define interventions to break the stigma around infertility in general and infertile women in specific and to support girl education as Ambassadors of “Merck Foundation More Than a Mother” campaign,” she added.

" I would like to assure that as Merck foundation we have trained 1,100 doctors across 42 countries in Africa and Asia in infertility specialty and also reproductive health which is a great milestone because most of them are the first specialists in their countries. In some countries they have limited numbers of gynecologists. This will help women and the couple to have access to someone to support them after we raise awareness on infertility, how we can deal with it, how we can prevent it. Access to these healthcare providers can help them from people who try to deceive them,” she stressed.

Among topics which were discussed during this session by African first ladies from 16 countries were infertility and stigma associated with it. Also mentioned was the issue of male involvement in infertility issues and mental health issues women deal with as well as Gender Based Violence.

“I believe women and particularly women need the very much needed support during the COVID-19 specifically. As we know childless women are usually abused physically and psychologically,” Dr. Kelej said.

More than 1,100 doctor from 42 countries, Dr Kelej said, have benefited from Merck Foundation scholarship in the above fields, and more will join in the next few years to benefit from more scholarships in more specialties such as: Internal Medicine, Gastroenterology, Mental Health, Orthopedic Trauma, Paediatric, Emergency Medicine, Dermatology, Neonatal Medicine, Pain Management, Psychiatry, Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases, Ophthalmology, Urology, Trauma and orthopedics.

Thirteen First African Ladies graced the inauguration of the 8th edition of Merck Foundation Africa Asia Luminary conference as guests of honors.

They included Angola First Lady, H.E. Ana Dias Lourenço, Botswana First Lady, H.E. Neo Jane Masisi, Burkina Faso First Lady, H.E. Sika Kabore, Burundi First Lady, H.E. Angeline Ndayishimiye, Central African Republic First Lady, H.E. Brigitte Touadera, Democratic Republic of Congo First Lady, H.E. Denise Nyakeru Tshisekedi.

Others are Ghana First Lady, H.E. Rebecca Akufo-Addo, Guinea First Lady, H.E. Djènè Condé, Liberia First Lady, H.E. Clar Marie Weah, Malawi First Lady, H.E. Monica Chakwera, Mozambique First Lady, H.E. Isaura Ferrão Nyusi, Namibia First Lady, H.E. Monica Geingos and Zambia First Lady H.E. Esther Lungu.

They shared health capacity-building strategy and building a robust platform of specialized trained medical experts in their respective countries, infertility stigma and support girl’s education.

They expressed their gratitude to Merck Foundation saying their partnership with the philanthropic arm of Merck Germany has supported them in building healthcare capacity and train healthcare providers in their respective countries. Some of the successes highlighted include:

More than 37 local young Namibian doctors will be provided with one-year online diploma from South Wales University, in the fields of Diabetes, Cardiology, Endocrinology, Respiratory Medicines, Acute Medicines and Sexual and Reproductive Medicines, reiterated H.E. Monica Geingos, the First Lady of Namibia.

Mozambique has enrolled 14 doctors in the Diabetes Master Course through Merck Foundation Diabetes Blue Points Project.

Malawi has launched the winners of Merck More Than a Mother Media Recognition Awards to avert the stigma of infertility and become the voice of the voiceless and break the silence. They are also set to launch Film, Song Awards to inspire youth to be innovative.

In Ghana, more than 60 healthcare providers have been trained in fields like Cancer, Diabetes, cardiology, endocrinology, respiratory, acute medicines, sexual and reproductive medicines, Fertility and embryology.

32 Doctors have also been enrolled for the Master Course in Diabetes Management in French accredited by Diabetes UK in DRC.

“Till today we have 33 doctors who have benefited from scholarships that Merck Foundation is providing in Oncology, Fertility speciality, embryology and reproductive and sexual medicines and Diabetes management,” said  Burundi First Lady, H.E. Angeline Ndayishimiye.

Thirteen doctors have also been trained in oncology and diabetes in Central African Republic.

The first ladies noted challenges women and girls are undergoing in Africa such as physical and psychological violence, stigma of infertility, child marriage, etc.

“UN reported that nearly one in five women worldwide has experienced violence in the past year. It means that infertile and childless women are suffering even more and more physical and psychological violence and are now trapped at home with their abusers, struggling to access services, they are lonely suffering in silence,” said Namibia First Lady, H.E. Monica Geingos.

They committed to empower infertile women through access to education, information, health, change of mindset, and economic support.

The three-day virtual event which is being co-hosted by the First Lady of Zambia, Esther Lungu and Senator Dr. Rasha Kelej, CEO of Merck Foundation, creates the platform for partners to meet and discuss strategies and solutions for health challenges with the aim of contributing to an improved access to quality and equitable healthcare solutions including breaking the stigma of infertility.

Zambian President, Dr. Edgar Chagwa Lungu, in his speech said as the population of Africa grows to almost 14 billion, it was important for leaders to focus on building the healthcare capacity and train more providers in various specialities.

“It is gratifying that the critical role of our health workers has been appreciated and re-emphasized during the Covid-19 pandemic… I believe that stronger political commitment, purposeful and strategic partnership are key to improving health outcomes… As political leaders we are accountable to our people for the decision we make and the results we achieve,” he said.

Frist Lady of Zambia, Esther Lungu, was excited to co-host the knowledge sharing platform as Merck Foundation celebrates its 4th Anniversary.

She commended her fellow First Ladies of Africa, Merck Foundation for making it possible for participants to gather under the theme “Together we can make a Difference” and help build healthcare capacity and improve access to equitable health solutions.

“It is my expectation that whatever will be discussed during the next three days, will be accompanied by a monitoring framework so that we can measure progress as we journey on,” she added.

First Lady of Ghana, Rebecca Akufo-Addo, highlighting the impact of Merck Foundation in Ghana, said together the two partners were able to launch an inspiring storybook “Make The Right Choice. Stay at Home” and successfully implemented the Stay at home, Media Recognition Awards.

“This helped to raise awareness on how to stay physically and mentally healthy, during these unsettling times. We look forward to the Mask up with care Media Recognition Awards, to continue to sentisize our communities.

We are also working with Merck Foundation on the ‘Educating Linda’ programme and have sponsored twenty high performing girls in their education,” she said.

She applauded Merck Foundation for its commitment to supporting healthcare systems, women and girls in Ghana and Africa.

“I also commend them for broadening the discussions on infertility by organising competitions in fashion, film and journalism,” Mrs Akufo-Addo added.

Cassien Tribunal Aungane, Editor

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