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MERCK FOUNDATION MARKS WORLD CANCER DAY BY PROVIDING 140 ONCOLOGY SCHOLARSHIP TO DOCTORS FROM 28 AFRICAN COUNTRIES SINCE 2012

Merck Foundation CEO, Dr Rasha Kelej, with some of the African doctors who were awarded oncology scholarships

Botswana yesterday joined the world to commemorate World Cancer Day.

Marking World Cancer Day, Merck Foundation — the philanthropic arm of Merck KGaA Germany — through its Merck Foundation Cancer Access Programme said it has provided 141 scholarships of oncology to doctors from 28 African countries, Botswana included.

Other countries to benefit from this programme are Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Congo Brazzaville, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Ghana, Gabon, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and Zambia.

Merck Foundation in total provided more than 1700 scholarships to doctors from over 50 countries in 42 critical and underserved medical specialties.

“In some of these countries, there was not even a single oncologist, therefore, we are proud that we are making history in Africa through training the first oncologists and first cancer care teams in many countries such as The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Liberia, Guinea Conakry, Central African Republic, Chad, and Niger.

“Merck Foundation is committed to leading Africa to a better future through transforming the landscape of Cancer care in the continent,” explained Merck Foundation chief executive Dr Rasha Kelej.

Like every year, Merck Foundation said it marks ‘World Cancer Day 2024’ themed ‘Close the care gap’ together with Africa’s First Ladies and Ministries of Health through their Cancer Access Programme to build quality and equitable cancer care capacity in Africa to increase the limited number of oncologists and develop the first multidisciplinary cancer care teams across the continent.

Added Dr Kelej: “We mark World Cancer Day together with Africa’s First Ladies, not just on a specific day, but every day and every year through transforming and advancing cancer care in Africa by enhancing professional capacity and improving access to high-quality and equitable cancer care throughout the continent. I am proud to share that Merck Foundation together with African First Ladies is successfully increasing the limited number of oncologists in Africa by providing 140 scholarships to young African doctors from 28 countries.

“We are making history together by providing these important scholarships for the first oncologists and /or the first cancer care teams in many countries across Africa.”

Launched in 2016, the Merck Foundation Cancer Access Programme provides one, two- and three-year fellowships, Post Graduate Diploma, and Master’s Degree in oncology for doctors from Africa. The clinical training has been conducted in India, Egypt, and Kenya. Additionally, Merck Foundation also provides scholarships for a two-year online PG Diploma in Cancer and Clinical Oncology, a one-year online PG Diploma in Medical Oncology, and a one-year online PG Diploma in Pain Management from reputed Universities in the UK like the University of South Wales, University of Buckingham, Queen Mary University of London, Cardiff University and The University of Edinburgh.

Additionally, Merck Foundation said it is establishing Multidisciplinary Oncology Care teams in many African countries by providing scholarships for clinical training in Medical Oncology, Surgical Oncology, Pediatrics Oncology, Gynecology Oncology, Breast Oncology, Haemato-Oncology, Orthopaedic Oncology, Palliative Care, Pathology Oncology, Radiation Oncology, Research in Oncology, Surgical Oncology – Genital Urinary System, Advanced Cytopathology Training, Interventional Radiology, Radiation Technician, Laboratory Technician, Oncology Nursing.

“Merck Foundation is committed to leading Africa to a better future through transforming the landscape of Cancer care in the continent,” explained Dr Kelej.

Merck Foundation also said it has created awareness materials including awareness leaflets and videos on cancer prevention and early detection.

Dr Mahamat Saleh Mahamat Baldass, Merck Foundation Oncology Alumni from Chad said: “I am the first Chadian Medical Oncologist of the country. I have benefitted from the One-year Oncology Fellowship training conducted at Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai, India, offered to me by Merck Foundation. Two of my colleagues

have benefitted from the three-month hands-on training in Oncology Nursing and Onco-pathology. The training I received has helped me in treating cancer patients in my country who either had to travel abroad for treatment (often very expensive) or simply gave up the hope of living.”

Dr Sylvestre Bazikamwe, Merck Foundation Alumni from Burundi noted: “I have completed a one-year fellowship in Gynae-Oncology from the prestigious Tata Memorial Centre in Mumbai, offered to me by Merck Foundation. I am now working towards a new Gynae-Oncology operating room and am also training my entire team so that we can offer various surgical treatments at the earliest possible. We intend to focus on early detection and optimum management of gynaecological cancers.

“I am spreading awareness about gynaecological cancers and their possible therapies among all my colleagues at the University of Burundi. I am very grateful to Merck Foundation for their priceless contribution towards cancer care.”

World Cancer Day, observed on February 4 each year, is the one single campaign that brings the entire world together to combat the global cancer epidemic.

As per WHO data, every year, Africa records around 1.1 million new cases of cancer, resulting in up to 700,000 deaths. The mortality rate of cancer patients is very high in Africa, as compared to the rest of the world. One of the key reasons is also the late diagnosis of the disease. Moreover, Africa has only 3 percent of the world’s cancer treatment facilities.

In a statement WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti said between 2022 and 2024, the focus of World Cancer Day is to help “Close the cancer gap.”

She said 2024 marks the third and final year of the campaign.

“Nevertheless, we commend the progress made in cancer prevention and care in our region. For instance, 17 countries have introduced high-performance-based screening tests in line with the WHO recommendations.

“Also, 28 of our Member States have introduced nationwide HPV vaccination to reach about 60 of percent the priority population targeted with HPV vaccination.

“This year’s theme is auspicious as it reinforces all persons and groups’ universal right to health.  We believe that regardless of socioeconomic status, geographic location, age, and gender, every person must be afforded an equal chance at the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer,” said Dr Moeti.

She urged the region’s countries, communities, partners, and civil society to unite and foster universal access to cancer prevention and care.

“Stakeholders must identify feasible priorities, implement evidence-based population-wide interventions, and invest in cancer control.

“Countries should use the updated WHO Best Buys, the facilitative tool designed to enable governments to select lifesaving policies and interventions for non-communicable diseases.

“Leaders are responsible for ensuring that cancer prevention and care deploy technologies and therapies that are available at low cost to affected persons and their families, which are value for money. Furthermore, countries should strengthen information systems to gather quality data for decision-making,” she said.

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