African First Ladies, Merck Foundation pledge to enhance healthcare

BY: Zadok Kwame Gyesi
African First Ladies and officials of Merck Foundation
African First Ladies and officials of Merck Foundation

Thirteen African First Ladies in collaboration with Merck Foundation have pledged to ensure quality and equitable healthcare systems on the African continent.

The First Ladies and the leadership of Merck Foundation made the pledge during the opening day of a three-day virtual Merck Africa Asia Luminary conference, which commenced on Tuesday, April 27, 2021.

The 13 African First Ladies who are also ambassadors of Merck Foundation’s “More Than a Mother Campaign”, an initiative to break the stigma of infertility in Africa were— First Lady of Zambia; First Lady of Angola; First Lady of Botswana; First Lady of Burkina Faso; First Lady of Burund; First Lady of Central African Republic; First Lady of the Democratic Republic of The Congo; First Lady of Ghana; First Lady Guinea Conakry; First Lady of Liberia; First Lady of Malawi; First Lady of Mozambique and First Lady of Namibia.

Luminary conference

The conference, which is in its 8th edition, brought together Ministers of Health, Gender, Information, Education and Science & Technology from 25 African countries.

Similarly, more than 5,000 healthcare providers, policymakers and media practitioners from over 70 countries took part in the virtual conference, which was co-chaired by the First Lady of Zambia, Esther Lungu, and Senator, Dr. Rasha Kelej, the CEO of Merck Foundation.

The conference was formally inaugurated by the President of the Republic of Zambia, Dr. Edgar Chagwa Lungu and Chairman of Board of Trustees and Chairman of the Executive Board of E. Merck KG, Professor. Dr. Frank Stangenberg-Haverkamp.

The three-day virtual event provides the platform for partners to meet and discuss strategies and solutions for health challenges with the aim of contributing to an improved access to quality and equitable healthcare solutions in Africa, particularly in the area of breaking the stigma of infertility.


The Merck Foundation’s CEO, Senator Dr. Kelej in her opening remarks, commended African First Ladies for their roles in breaking infertility stigma on the continent as well as helping to train more specialised doctors for the continent’s healthcare sector.

“I am very proud to work together with all of you to realize our vision of a world where ‘Everyone Can Lead a Healthy and Fulfilling Life’,” she said.

She expressed the optimism that the conference would serve as an avenue for the African First Ladies and other key health stakeholders to meet, even though virtually, to discuss strategies and solutions for health challenges in their respective countries.

Senator Dr Kelej said the luminary conference was also aimed at contributing ideas to improving access to quality and equitable healthcare solutions and building healthcare capacity in many critical and underserved medical fields such as Ddabetes, cardiovascular, endocrinology, cancer, fertility care, women health, sexual and reproductive care, respiratory medicines, acute medicines, and research.

She said through Merck Foundation’s partnership with the African First Ladies, more than 1,100 doctor from 42 countries had benefited from the Foundation’s scholarship in many specialised health fields, pointing out that more health practitioners would benefit from the Foundation’s scholarship scheme.

She added that it was the Foundation’s aim to train more health personnel in areas such as Internal Medicine, Gastroenterology, Mental Health, Orthopedic Trauma, Paediatric, Emergency Medicine, Dermatology, Neonatal Medicine, Pain Management, Psychiatry, Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases, Ophthalmology, Urology, Trauma and orthopedics in Africa.

“Merck Foundation started this smart capacity building strategy in partnership with African First Ladies and Ministries of Health and Medical Societies since 2012, which contributed significantly towards transforming and reshaping the landscape of the public healthcare sector and towards advancing patient care in 42 countries. It is history in the making,” Senator Dr Kelej explained.


The First Lady of Ghana, Mrs Rebecca Akufo-Addo, extolled the role of Merck Foundation in Ghana, saying that through the Foundation’s scholarship programme, some Ghanaian doctors had had the opportunity to train in some specialised areas.

She commended Merck Foundation for its commitment to supporting healthcare systems in Ghana and Africa, particularly in the areas of breaking infertility stigma and providing specialised training for underserved health conditions.

“I also commend them for broadening the discussions on infertility by organising competitions in fashion, film and journalism,” she expressed.

The First Lady of Namibia, Mrs Monica Geingos, urged African media practitioners to continue to educate the public on infertility stigma, noting that the media plays a key role in helping to shape discussions around infertility.

The First Lady of Guinea, Madam Djene Conde, called on the public to accord infertile women the needed respect, saying that “respect women whether they have children or not; they are more than mothers.”