… As 8th Merck Foundation Luminary opens in Zambia

By Chioma Obinna

As Merck Foundation 8th Merck Africa- Asia Luminary conference opens, African leaders have been urged to focus on building the healthcare capacity as well as training more healthcare providers in different specialities to keep the citizens healthy and productive.

Making the call during the opening ceremony of the 3-Day conference with over 2000 participants from 70 countries, President of Zambia, Dr Edgar Chagwa Lungu, noted that the population of Africa grows to almost 1.4 billion noted that the critical role of our health workers has been appreciated and re-emphasized by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I believe that stronger political commitment, purposeful and strategic partnerships are key to improving health outcomes and the wellbeing of all people in the world, especially Africans. As political leaders, we are accountable to our people for the decision we make and the results we achieve.”

Noting that 85 doctors from Zambia have benefitted from the Merck Foundation training, Lungu said he was impressed by Merck Foundation’s smart strategy aimed at advancing the capacity of healthcare by providing critical and underserved speciality training for local doctors.

In her address at the event which she co-hosted by the First Lady of Zambia, Mrs Esther Lungu,, Chief Executive Officer of Merck Foundation, Senator Rasha Kelej disclosed that more than 1100 doctors from 42 countries have benefited from Merck Foundation scholarship 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.

Also read: Merck Foundation launches Merck More Than a Mother

Expressing satisfaction working with the first ladies of 15 countries among other partners, she said more doctors would be joining in the next few years to benefit from more scholarships in more specialities 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 orthopaedics.

Kelej said Merck Foundation smart capacity-building strategy in partnership with African First Ladies and Ministries of Health and Medical Societies which started in 2012, has contributed significantly towards transforming and reshaping the landscape of the public healthcare sector as well as towards advancing patient care in 42 countries.

She said the conference would afford the participants the opportunity to discuss strategy realisation 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 specialities 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.

On her part, Co-host and First Lady of Zambia, Mrs Esther Lungu, who commended her fellow First Ladies of Africa, noted their long partnership with Merck Foundation in building capacity for health workers, in improving access to healthcare, information and breaking the silence, stigma and discrimination associated with infertility.

She expressed optimism that the outcome of the conference would be accompanied by a monitoring framework that can measure progress in the partnership to tackle social and health issues confronting Africans.

On his part, the Chairman of the Executive Board of E. Merck KG, Prof. Frank Stangenberg-Haverkamp noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of focusing on building and advancing healthcare capacity speciality training of medical staff at all levels to be the first defence line during outbreaks.

He said Governments have realised more than ever, the urgent need to address healthcare deficiencies to meet the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing healthcare needs of their populations.

Also read: World Cancer Day: Merck Foundation, African First Ladies unite against cancer

He said in their response to the pandemic, they have focused on supporting the livelihood of thousands of women and casual workers families affected in more than 18 countries even as they have started online medical speciality training in 2020 through providing one-year Diploma and two year Master degree from south Wales University and Queen University such as: in Diabetes, Cardiovascular, Endocrinology, Sexual and reproductive medicines, Medical oncology, respiratory medicines and acute medicines.

“In 2020 alone, we have enrolled more than 400 African doctors into these courses which will make a significant impact in improving the quality of care for patients who suffered coronavirus and who considered risk groups.

“We have also started this year to provide scholarships for more underserved but critical specialities in Africa such as internal Medicine, Gastroenterology,, Mental Health: Orthopaedic, Paediatric, Emergency Medicine,, Dermatology, Neonatal Medicine, Pain Management, Psychiatry, Clinical Microbiology and infectious diseases, Ophthalmology,, Urology, Trauma and orthopaedics. I strongly believe this will be another important milestone in transforming healthcare quality and equitability for all patients and their families across Africa and developing countries.

He said he was proud of our online programs, not only because it demonstrates Merck foundation’s concrete response to Coronavirus but also because it will significantly transform the healthcare landscape and create a revolution in access to quality and equitable healthcare in general

“Merck foundation understood Africa’s challenges and tried to address them properly; through programs such as Merck Cancer Access program which provides one year, two and three-year Oncology fellowship and master degree for more than 70 African doctors from 25 countries to increase the limited number of oncologists across Africa.

Another program is „Merck more than a Mother“;, the campaign has been kicked off in Africa in 2015 in partnership with The First ladies who became „Merck more than a Mother“ ambassadors, calling for action to break the stigma around infertile women and empower them and to build fertility care capacity in their countries. Through the campaign in 35 countries, we have provided 180 doctors with Fertility specialists and embryology training programs and another 155 doctors with a one-year diploma and two-year master degree in sexual and reproductive health from UK University which will improve women health in general and reproductive health in particular.

Other programs are focusing on building diabetes and hypertension care capacity in both Africa and Asia under Merck Diabetes Blue Points Program, with the aim to establish a strong platform of specialists across the two continents. The course is in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish as we expanded this year to Latin America. From 2016 till today more than 550 doctors from 37 countries are currently either graduated or undergoing this programme.

“More than 60 Doctors have been enrolled in One-year diploma and 2-year master degree in respiratory medicines and Acute medicines to advance coronavirus patient care in Africa.

I am looking forward to celebrating with you their graduation and joining Merck Foundation Alumni soon to be the future healthcare experts that will lead the world to a better and healthier future,” he added.

Vanguard News Nigeria 

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