Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Big Pharma, Merck gives 2000 Ugandans free cancer education and diabetes screening

Big Pharma, Merck, in partnership with Uganda Ministry of Health, Makerere University and Uganda Cancer Institute have started a combined diabetes and cancer campaign in Tororo, Uganda as part of Merck Cancer Control Program (MCCP).

The program is a new initiative of Merck’s 5 year Capacity Advancement Program (CAP) which now for the first time includes cancer.By 2018 Merck aims to reach 100.000 community members through its combined diabetes and cancer awareness campaigns.

Through the newly launched combined community campaign, Merck aims to provide more than 2.000 people with free cancer education and diabetes screening to enable Ugandans to prevent the diseases and give them advice on how to lead healthier lives.

“The Merck Cancer Control Program aims to partner with top experts across the globe to assist African countries in implementing comprehensive cancer prevention and control programs,” said Elcin Ergun, Head of Global Commercial of Merck Serono, the biopharmaceutical business of Merck. ”This program will be rolled out in other African countries within the year and will be augmented by community awareness and strong educational programs for medical students across Africa.”

Minster of State of Health, Sarah Opendi stated that most cancer patients report to the health facility when cancer is in the advanced stage which poses a challenge because nothing much can be done to save the patient’s life. This is partly due to the nature of the cancers since they have no symptoms in early stages but also due to our poor health seeking behaviours.

“According to WHO, over one third of cancer deaths are due to preventable causes such as viral infection, poor nutrition and widespread tobacco use. It is important to note that once diagnosed early cancer can be treated and cured. Uganda just like other developing countries faces a wide range of health system challenges and cancer is often not a priority in limited resource settings. Therefore the Ministry of Health appreciates private public partnership with reputable companies like Merck to promote key health guidelines and raise awareness about Cancer so that people learn how to detect and prevent it,” she added.

During her speech at the campaign, Rasha Kelej, Vice President and Head of Global Business Responsibility and Market development of Merck’s biopharmaceutical business Merck Serono said”By partnering with Ministries of Health and universities in Africa to implement our Cancer Control Program as a new initiative of Merck’s CAP, we hope to quickly achieve our objective of advancing cancer healthcare capacities and reducing the socioeconomic burden of the disease.”

“Merck previously partnered with the Ministry of Health, Makerere University and Uganda Diabetes Association to carry out medical camps and nationwide diabetes awareness (SMS) text messages to healthcare providers and community members. Today for the first time in Africa, we address cancer with diabetes at the same campaign, which will help us to target the common risk factors for Non- Communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity” Kelej added.

According to World Health Organization (WHO) by 2020 there are expected to be 16 million new cases of cancer every year, 70% of which will be in developing countries where governments are least prepared to address the growing cancer burden and where survival rates are often less than half those of more developed countries.

Sarah Opendi emphasized. “Cancer awareness is very low in Africa, regardless whether the patient is educated or not. For example; even doctors, teachers and bank managers are late in responding to the disease, therefore our partnership with Merck to implement their Cancer Control Program is very important for Uganda since educating the public and healthcare providers about the signs and symptoms of cancer will help promote early detection and better survival outcomes”.

At the campaign , Dr. David Kerr, Professor of Cancer Medicine, University of Oxford emphasized” I have no doubt that in order to prevent and reduce the death rate from Non communicable illnesses like cancer , diabetes and heart disease, we will need to see collaboration and collective action from Health Ministries, NGOs, Academia and Industry. The size and complexity of the task is so large that no single Agency can manage on its own, so integration of effort is necessary to achieve the health gains that our citizens deserve. We believe that prevention is better than cure, so awareness raising and evidence based screening will play a big part in any campaign to reduce death rates from these diseases, but we realise that at the same time we need to improve treatment of cancer , diabetes and heart disorders. We stand united in our quest to reduce deaths from these common diseases by 25% by 2025.’

Merck CAP is a 5 year program aiming to expand the professional capacity in developing countries in the areas of research and development, advocacy building, supply-chain integrity and efficiency, pharmacovigilance, medical education, and community awareness.

As part of the CAP, by end of 2015, more than 5,000 medical students in partnership with African universities such as University of Nairobi, Makerere University, Namibia University and University of Ghana, in addition to Asian universities such as Maharashtra university, India and University of Indonesia will benefit from European-accredited clinical chronic diseases management training, which is seeking to equip them with skills to better manage and prevent these diseases.

Merck is planning to target more than 15,000 students by the end of 2018 expanding to more African, Asian, Latin American and Middle Eastern countries with special focus on non –communicable diseases such as Diabetes, cancer and fertility management.

The program will also kick off initiatives on building research capacity and improving supply chain in order to improve patient safety in Africa.

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