Merck, UNESCO Empower Women, Girls in STEM

December 20, 2016

By Dipo Olowookere

Following the success of Merck Cancer Access Program to empower women in oncology field where they are underrepresented, comes another successful initiative for MERCK to empower African women in research to offer better health care to women.

After receiving his ‘African Alliances HE for SHE’ award for women empowerment, Prof Frank Stangenberg-Haverkamp has successfully achieved another commitment to empower women in research in an effort to bridging the gap in gender inequality in STEM Africa.

UNESCO and Merck celebrate outstanding African Women Researchers as a historical first. Kenya, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Uganda, Ethiopia ranked in the top five places at the ‘Merck Africa Women Research Award on women health in Africa’.

Merck announced five winners from Kenya, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Uganda and Ethiopia under the category of ‘Best African Women Researchers Award’ and four winners from Botswana, Cameroon, Gambia and Zimbabwe for ‘Best Young African Researchers Award’ during the recently held 2nd UNESCO-Merck Africa Research Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where the first ‘Best African Women Researchers Award’ was being launched.

Prof. Frank Stangenberg-Haverkamp, Chairman of Executive Board and Family Board of E. Merck KG congratulated the winners: “Merck will work together with UNESCO to empower young researchers which raises the level of scientific research in Africa and encourages in particular young women researchers to pursue their dreams, work for improving access to health solutions and make a difference in the continent.

“Moreover, I am very pleased to offer my support to motivate female researchers & healthcare providers and recognize their excellent contribution to fields where they are underrepresented”.

“Merck will provide the winners with training and mentorship opportunity to advance their capacity and helps bring them to the international standard.

“The winner of MARS Research awards will be appointed as Merck Ambassadors of Empowering Women and Girls in STEM in their own countries through several future initiatives will be announced in 2017,” explained Rasha Kelej Chief Social Officer, Merck.

Recipients of the awards who are not only PhD students and young investigators based at African research institutes and universities were selected based on the abstracts they submitted. These impressive abstracts were related to Infectious Diseases with the aim to improve Women Health, the focus of UNESCO-MARS 2016.

In her introductory remarks, Dr Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer, Merck Healthcare highlighted: “This is the second UNESCO-MARS we are holding after the successful one held in Geneva, Switzerland in 2015. Merck is committed to empowering women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) which will consequently contribute to improving the quality of research and science in Africa.”

“Merck’s support for research and healthcare especially in the field of oncology where women are currently under-represented will help bridge the gender gap in STEM in Africa.  Merck have provided earlier this year Oncology fellowship program to African women doctors from Kenya, Uganda, Ghana and Tanzania. Not only that we have also supported women cancer survivors through access to information, awareness about prevention and early detection, health and economic empowerment through Merck more than a a patient initiative which focuses mainly on Cancer in women and its social misperception and stigma,” Rasha Kelej added.

“The first recipient, Patricia Rantshabeng from Botswana, was awarded for her study on cancer in women and its relation to infectious diseases. This is aligned with our objectives to empower women in both fields of research and oncology to improve women health” Rasha Kelej explained.

‘Best African Women Researchers Award’

The ‘Best African Women Researchers Awards’ with the aim of promoting women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) went to five women researchers from across Africa, who were recognized for the outstanding quality of their research.

1st winner: Kenya

Beatrice Nyagol, Kenya Medical Research Institute for her study on:“Clinicians’ experiences and insights in conducting an intra-vaginal ring study among young women in Kisumu, Kenya, 2015 -Lessons learned” (see the video section: UNESCO-MARS 2016 ‘Best African Woman Researcher Award’ 1st place winner, Beatrice Nyagol, Kenya)

2nd winner: Burkina Faso

Rogomenoma Ouedraogo, Laboratory of Biology and Molecular Genetics University of Ouagadougou for her study on: “Molecular diagnosis of cytomegalovirus (CMV), the human herpes virus type 6 (HHV6) and Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) by real-time PCR in pregnant women infected or not infected by HIV at Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso” (see the video section: UNESCO-MARS 2016 ‘Best African Woman Researcher Award’ 2nd place winner, Alice Rogomenoma)

3rd winner: Gabon

Sandrine Liabagui ep Assangaboua Ecole Doctorale Regionale d’Afrique Centrale, Franceville for her study on: “Pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines in children with malaria in Franceville, Gabon”

4th winner: Uganda

Maria Nabaggala, from the Infectious Diseases Institute for her study on: “Understanding outcomes of HIV positive patient tracking following a missed appointment in rural Uganda” (see the video section: UNESCO-MARS 2016 ‘Best African Woman Researcher Award’ 4th place winner, Maria Nabaggala, Uganda)

5th winner: Ethiopia

Martha Zewdie, Armauer Hansen Research Institute for her study on: “Ex-vivo characterization of regulatory T-cells in pulmonary tuberculosis patients, latently infected persons, and healthy endemic controls” (see the video section: UNESCO-MARS 2016 ‘Best African Women Researcher Award’ 5th place winner, Martha Zewdie, Ethiopia)

‘Best Young African Researchers Award’

The three categories of the ‘Best Young Researchers Award’ were given to two female and two male researchers Botswana, Cameroon, Gambia and Zimbabwe.

1st winner: Botswana

Patricia Rantshabeng, University of Botswana for her study on: “Prevalence of oncogenic Human Papillomavirus genotypes in women with vulvar and cervical squamous cell carcinoma in Botswana (see the video section: UNESCO-MARS 2016 ‘Best Young African Researcher Award’ 1st place winner, Patricia Rantshabeng, Botswana)

2nd winner: Cameroon

Constantine Asahngwa, Cameroon Centre for Evidence Based Health Care for his study on: “The experiences of women living with trachoma in Africa: A qualitative systematic review” (see the video section: UNESCO-MARS 2016 ‘Best Young African Researcher Award’ 2nd place, Constantine Asahngwa, Cameroon)

3rd winner: Zimbabwe

Tinashe Nyazika, University of Zimbabwe for his study on: “Cryptococcus neoformans population diversity is not associated with clinical outcomes of HIV-associated cryptococcal meningitis patients in Zimbabwe” (see the video section: UNESCO-MARS 2016 ‘Best Young Researcher Award’ 3rd place winner, Tinashe Nyazika, Zimbabwe)

3rd winner: Gambia

Lamin Cham, from National Aids Control Program for his study on: “Qualitative detection of proviral-DNA of HIV-1 in neonates to determine the efficacy of antiretroviral therapy in the prevention of vertical transmission of HIV-1 in the Gambia” (see the video section: UNESCO-MARS 2016 ‘Best Young Researcher Award’ 3rd place winner, Lamin Cham, Gambia)

About 2016 MARS award winners:

‘Best African Women Researchers Award’

    1st Place: Beatrice Nyagol, Kenya Medical Research Institute, Kenya

    2nd Place: Rogomenoma Ouedraogo, Laboratory of Biology and Molecular Genetics University, Burkina Faso

    3rd Place: Sandrine Liabagui ep Assangaboua, Ecole Doctorale Regionale d’Afrique Centrale, Franceville, Gabon

    4th Place: Maria Nabaggala, Infectious Diseases Institute, Uganda

    5th Place: Martha Zewdie, Armauer Hansen Research Institute, Ethiopia

‘Best Young African Researchers Award’

    1st Place: Patricia Rantshabeng, University of Botswana, Botswana

    2nd Place: Constantine Asahngwa, Cameroon Centre for Evidence Based Health Care

    3rd Place: Tinashe Nyazika, University of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe

    3rd place : Lamin Cham, National Aids Control Program, Gambia

Meet the First candidates for Merck Oncology Fellowship Program to empower women and youth in the field of oncology

The first two candidates to attend the Merck Africa Oncology Fellowship Program at Tata Memorial Center in India have been selected from Tanzania and Ghana.

Nihad Salifu from Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons will attend the Fellowship to train in Paediatric Oncology and Christina Malichewe from Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences, Tanzania is interested in learning more about the treatment of gastro intestinal malignancies.

Dr. Christina V. Malichewe, Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS) Dares Salaam, Tanzania

“Cancer is a growing concern in Tanzania. Limited facilities and few healthcare providers against the high rising number of patients diagnosed at advanced stages pose a great challenge to a developing country like Tanzania. Unfortunately there are only two medical oncologists in a country of approximately 50 million people. One studied in Italy and another in China. We need more specialized oncologists in this field. Thank you Merck for starting this program!! However, it is only through unique opportunities such as the Merck Africa Fellowship Program we can make needed change in our societies so as to improve patient access to cancer care,” Christina Malichewe said.

“I am thankful and proud to be among the young doctors from Tanzania to attend the Merck Africa Medical Oncology Program which I believe after completion will further help in imparting knowledge to others and increasing the access to cancer care in the larger Tanzanian population,” Christina added.

Christina is interested in learning more on the treatment of gastro intestinal malignancies. “I know a lot is changing on the management and in our country there is little interest on this area in terms of screening, management and research among the oncologists compared to cervical, breast and Kaposis sarcoma cancers”.

Dr. Nihad Salifu, Senior Residency trainee in General Pediatrics at Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons

“Ghana has a population of about 26 million with a cancer rate of 109 per 100,000 people and yet there is no single trained medical oncologist in the whole country. The duty of medical oncologist is handled by other specialties such as radiation oncologist, general surgeons, genitourinary surgeons, and hematologists among others. This makes the care of patients very difficult because these doctors are not formally trained in medical oncology,” says Nihad Salifu, a Senior Resident trainee in general pediatrics at the Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons.

“In addition, there are only three paediatric oncologists in the whole country and our cancer cure rate is very low in children- it is about 20% when cure rates are approaching 80% in many developed parts of the world,” adds Salifu.

Salifu, who is one of the first candidates of the Merck Africa Oncology Fellowship Program says: “This huge human resource deficit in childhood cancer care is the main motivating factor for my applying to be considered for this training. I will benefit from this great opportunity being given to our country by Merck. The Merck Fellowship Program will definitely add to the few paediatric oncologists in Ghana; ease the workload and improve quality of patient care; add to the number of voices advocating for these patients and to the number of trainers of health workers delivering services including awareness creation; and also strengthen the team effort in the area of research and improving the paediatric cancer registry.”

Dr. Angela McLigeyo

Dr. Angela McLigeyo, a medical doctor in Kenya has worked as a medical officer and consultant physician for the past 12 years and shares about the challenges oncology patients face in the country and how the Fellowship Program will impact cancer care.

“Five years ago, after a personal experience with cancer, I realized that oncology patients in Kenya have a tough time accessing healthcare because there are no programs to support the expensive treatment and there are practically no public health programs for improving health systems for cancer management. The outcomes therefore for patients with cancer in my country are very dismal,” McLigeyo says.

McLigeyo explains: “My decision to study oncology was made then. One of the goals in this decision has been to improve the quality of oncology care in Kenya. This is especially in the setting of the growing cancer burden in Kenya and the high mortality rates that accompany it. In addition, majority of cancer patients in Kenya have to travel out of the country to seek treatment due to high local treatment costs, shortage of specialists and weak health systems.”

“The decision to study oncology meant taking initiative for self-learning as well as collaborating with like–minded oncologists. To this end, I joined the hemato and medical oncology unit at the Kenyatta National Hospital as a volunteer from early 2014, and I have been working with the team there since then,” adds McLigeyo.

McLigeyo emphasizes: ‘The Merck Africa Oncology Fellowship Program’ in partnership with University of Nairobi is timely for the African continent. It aptly suits our need for increasing the number of trained oncologists in the continent, both through developing knowledge and skills as well as increasing research and leadership skills. I look forward to the two year learning period after which I hope to train others under the same program in addition to offering quality oncology services in my country, Kenya.”

Dipo Olowookere

Dipo Olowookere is a journalist based in Nigeria that has passion for reporting business news stories. At his leisure time, he watches football and supports 3SC of Ibadan.

Mr Olowookere can be reached via [email protected]

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