By Alieu Ceesay
African leaders have been urged to focus on building the capacity of the healthcare sector by training more healthcare providers in different specialties to keep the citizens healthy and productive.
The call was made by the President of Zambia; his wife; Chief Executive; and the Chairman of the Executive Board at the virtual conference convened by Merck Foundation fondly referred to as ‘8th Merck Foundation Africa-Asia Luminary’.
Making the call during the opening ceremony of the 3-Day virtual conference dubbed “8th Merck Foundation Africa-Asia Luminary” with over 2000 participants from 70 countries, President of Zambia, Dr. Edgar Chagwa Lungu, noted that the population of Africa has grown to almost 1.4 billion; adding that the critical role of its health workers has been appreciated and re-emphasized especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The meeting brought together First Ladies from 19 Countries, including First Lady Fatoumata Bah-Barrow, and host First Lady Esther Lungu as co-chair with Dr Kelej as Merck Foundation also celebrated its 4th anniversary.
“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,” said the Zambian President.
Participants met to discuss strategies and solutions for health challenges around the world, such as diabetes, cardiovascular, cancer, fertility care, women, health, sexual and reproductive care, among others.
In her address at the event, 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.
Chief Executive Kelej, while expressing delight at working with the First Ladies, 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, Orthopaedic Trauma, Paediatric, Emergency Medicine, Dermatology, Neonatal Medicine, Pain Management, Psychiatry, Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases, Ophthalmology, Urology, Trauma and orthopaedics.
According to the Merck Foundation boss, the conference would afford the participants the opportunity to discuss strategy realisation to build healthcare capacity, respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, and 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,” the Chief Executive said.
Merck Foundation Chief Executive, Senator Dr Rasha Kelej, also said her Organisation is committed to bringing an end to the stigma associated with infertility, and also promote girls’ education in Africa.
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.
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.
The Merck Foundation was established in 2017 as the philanthropic organ of Merck KGaA in Germany which targets to improve the health and wellbeing of people and advance their lives through science and technology. It focuses primarily on improving access to quality and equitable healthcare solutions in underserved communities, among others.
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.
The foundation runs a project dubbed “Merck Foundation more than a mother” working with First Ladies from different countries on the continent.