With its multi-year Capacity Advancement Program, our company wants to strengthen its education and prevention efforts among people living in emerging economies and eveloping countries. The focus is on diseases such as diabetes and cancer, as well as on fertility treatment.

Kibera is a massive slum in southwest Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. Zena Ali is sitting on the side of a dusty street in front of a green corrugated-iron hut selling vegetables. She tells her story calmly, ‟It started around three years ago. I felt weak, needed to urinate frequently and had a fever. A doctor gave me some malaria drugs, but my condition did not improve.” Not until she was examined in a hospital in Nairobi did she receive the correct diagnosis: diabetes. Zena Ali is confused. She was born and raised in a slum. And she still lives there today, together with her husband in very modest circumstances. ‟I asked myself how could I have a disease that otherwise only rich people get,” Zena Ali recalls. Diabetes is indeed still generally considered a disease of the wealthy, namely overweight, elderly people living in western industrialized countries. Africa, by contrast, is usually associated with the fight against infectious diseases such as AIDS.

New clinical pictures

But that’s far off the mark, especially since the incidence of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disorders and cancer is rapidly growing. Around 12 million people in Africa suffer from diabetes today. According to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), the number of people with diabetes in Africa is expected to double by 2035. The IDF has determined that in Africa, 76% of deaths due to diabetes are in people under the age of 60. Economic progress is the main reason for the spread of the disease. A significantly growing middle class is giving rise to new eating habits and an unhealthy lifestyle. Zena Ali also says, ‟I used to eat a lot of junk food and after my diagnosis I had to completely change my diet.” Paradoxically, around 70% of people worldwide classified as poor live in emerging economies, mainly in Africa and Asia. The population has little knowledge of the causes of and therapies for diseases, especially in rural areas.


in Africa from now through 2020

Our company in Africa

We have been providing healthcare services in Africa since 1897. The company currently has around 400 employees across ten African countries and plans to increase this number to around 1,000 by 2020. We want to more than double our sales in Africa to € 500 million by 2020. In November 2015, our company signed an agreement on the local production of the diabetes treatment Glucophage® in Algeria, opened a new office in Nigeria and launched the cell counter Muse® for the detection of HIV. In addition, we support supports a wide range of initiatives within the health field, one of its Corporate Responsibility strategic spheres of activity. An important goal is to eliminate the worm disease schistosomiasis in cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO).

Students at Makerere University in Uganda discussing clinical diabetes management.

Deepening training

Many physicians still do not have sufficient knowledge either. This is a challenge that we would like to actively tackle. The five-year Capacity Advancement Program (CAP) aims, among other things, to deepen the professional training of medical students as well as to develop awareness and educate the local population in emerging economies and developing countries. ‟In partnership with African universities – such as the University of Nairobi, Makerere University in Uganda, and the Universities of Namibia, Ghana, as well as Addis Abeba in Ethiopia – 7,000 medical students are already benefiting from a European-accredited clinical training program on the treatment of chronic diseases,” explains Rasha Kelej, Head of Global Business Social Responsibility and Market Development, responsible for CAP at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany.

“In partnership with African universities 7,000 medical students are already benefiting from a European-accredited clinical training program on the treatment of chronic diseases.”

Rasha Kelej, Head of Global Business Social Responsibility and Market Development

This training program is also underway under the auspices of CAP at Asian universities such as Maharashtra University in India and the University of Indonesia. By the end of 2018, we plan to reach more than 25,000 students and expand the program to further countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. CAP also includes initiatives designed to boost research capacities and promote the work of young researchers in the healthcare field, for instance the UNESCO Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, Africa Research Summit (MARS). The annual summit aims to help build research capacity in Africa with a special focus on Ebola and emergent infectious diseases and pave the way for Africa’s development as an international hub for research excellence and scientific innovation.

Free screening

With the launch of our Africa Diabetes Days, our company is taking action against the significant increase in the number of diabetes patients in Africa. The ‟Every Day is a Diabetes Day″ initiative aims to educate people on the dangers of diabetes. Free diabetes screening and medical education on the disease is planned for more than 300,000 people throughout Africa by the end of 2016. ‟Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, is thus doing valuable prevention work. Patients with diabetes can receive proper treatment after being diagnosed and those at risk can protect themselves by changing their lifestyle,″ says Professor C.F. Fredrick Otieno from the University of Nairobi School of Medicine.

Fighting cancer

We are also focusing on the fight against cancer. Today, developing countries account for around one-half of all cases of cancer worldwide. And the trend is growing sharply. Here too, the disease distinguishes neither between rich and poor nor between old and young. The medical infrastructure of many African countries is hardly prepared for this tremendous challenge. The survival rate of cancer patients is much lower than in western industrialized countries. This is a situation that our Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, Cancer Control Program (MCCP), which was set up in 2015, wants to change, likewise under the umbrella of CAP. With the help of internationally renowned oncologists, the aim is to improve the training of medical students in the prevention and early detection of cancer. In addition, our E-Health initiative in cooperation with the Kenyan Ministry of Health is improving access to cancer therapies in rural regions by using the possibilities of telemedicine. ‟The majority of the poor population lives in rural areas with inadequate health facilities. Video conferencing can help to overcome this barrier,″ says James Macharia, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Health.
In addition, in order to increase the limited number of medical oncologists in Africa, we are supporting a medical oncology fellowship program. It will start in Kenya and be rolled out across Africa.

The Capacity Advancement Program of our company is supporting Zena Ali, a diabetes patient who lives in a slum outside Nairobi.

The stigma of infertility

A further CAP initiative is addressing the discrimination of childless or infertile women. In some cultures, the private problem of infertility can escalate into a public stigma with serious consequences. Childless women are often isolated and suffer from physical and mental abuse. The ‟More than a Mother″ campaign launched by our company together with the Kenya Women Parliamentary Association (KEWOPA) and the University of Nairobi is tackling this problem.
The program will not only provide medical education and awareness for medical students and healthcare providers, but it will also help governments to define policies to improve access to safe and effective fertility care and address the need for interventions. Joyce Lay, Kenyan Member of Parliament and ‟More than a Mother″ ambassador, says, ‟This initiative will define several interventions to reduce the social suffering and stigmatization of infertile women and raise awareness about infertility prevention, male infertility and the necessity for a team approach to family building among couples.”
The ‟More than a Mother” initiative is being accompanied by a social media campaign in order to enable the affected women to share their stories of stigma.