From Fred Ezeh, Abuja
Merck Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Merck, has wooed African first ladies to a cause that would herald significant improvement in healthcare systems in Africa, thereby reducing medical tourism in the continent.
With reference to the devastating effects of COVID-19 on the healthcare system in Africa, Merck Foundation predicted that more pandemics would come, hence the need to begin the process of strengthening the healthcare system against any form of health emergency, endemic or pandemic.
CEO of Merck Foundation, Dr. Rasha Kelej, who spoke to participants at the eighth edition of Merck Africa Asia Luminary, held virtually, stressed the importance of regular training and capacity building for doctors and other health workers in different healthcare facilities.
Zambian President, Edgar Chagwa Lungu, inaugurated the conference with more than 13 African first ladies in attendance. Similarly, over 32,000 participants from more than 70 countries joined the virtual conference.
Dr. Kelej, in her welcome speech, said the essence of the conference was for all stakeholders to meet, exchange ideas, knowledge, experiences and proffer superior solutions for healthcare challenges in Africa.
She challenged participants to freely contribute to the cause of improving access to quality, equitable and affordable healthcare solutions and building capacity in many critical and underserved medical fields such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, endocrinology, cancer, research, fertility care, women health, sexual and reproductive care, respiratory medicine and acute medicines.
She said: “More than 1,100 doctors from 42 countries have benefited from Merck Foundation scholarship in different fields of medicine, 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 care, emergency medicine, dermatology, neonatal medicine, pain management, psychiatry, clinical microbiology and infectious diseases, ophthalmology, urology, trauma and orthopedics.”
Dr. Kelej disclosed that capacity-building strategy, which has been achieved with the help of African First Ladies and other partners, has contributed significantly towards transforming and reshaping the landscape of the public healthcare sector towards advancing patient care in 42 countries.
President Lungu, in his opening remarks, said, “I am very glad to be hosting this important conference together with Merck Foundation, our long-term strategic partner. It’s a great honour to inaugurate the conference alongside the First Ladies of Africa. I am optimistic the conference will help us to further explore partnership opportunities and introduce new frameworks for cooperation in the area of health care capacity building and to define interventions to break infertility stigma and support girl education”.
Chairman of the executive board of E.Merck KG and Merck Foundation Board of Trustees, Dr. Frank Stangenberg-Haverkamp, thanked African First Ladies, African ministers of health and other health professionals from Africa, Asia, Latin America for their commitment to the cause of quality healthcare services in Africa.
He encouraged them join hands with Merck Foundation to realise its vision, which is to ensure that everyone in the world should live a happy and fulfilling life.
“We have, together, achieved a huge success and we are going to continue and extend our support to achieve more,” he promised.
First Lady of Zambia and co-chairperson of Merck Foundation Africa Asia Luminary 2021, Mrs. Esther Lungu, in her keynote address, said, “I am very happy to co-chair and host this important conference of Merck Foundation and also to celebrate together the fourth anniversary of Merck Foundation, our long-term partner in building healthcare capacity and improving access to health, information and breaking the infertility stigma.”
She confirmed that Merck Foundation has been a long-term partner in building capacity for health workers, improving access to healthcare, information and breaking the silence, stigma and discrimination associated with infertility.
She said: “We are indebted to Merck Foundation for selecting Zambia to host this important knowledge-platform where discussions cut across various health and social challenges, besides finding solutions to improve the health and wellbeing of our nations.”