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Gambia’s First Lady addresses Merck Foundation’s 9th Africa-Asia luminary, highlighting achievements in building health care capacity, breaking infertility stigma in Gambia

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By Tabora Bojang

Gambia’s First Lady Her Excellency Fatoumatta Bah-Barrow joins 15 other African first ladies to deliver a key note address as guest of honor at the 9th edition of Merck Foundation Africa-Asia Luminary 2022 held online and in person.

The first lady used her address to highlight strategies and impacts of partnership between her foundation dubbed FaBB and Merck Foundation towards building health care capacity, breaking of stigma around infertility and support to girls empowerment and education in the Gambia.

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The annual educational conference aims to among others contribute to social and economic development in Africa and Asia.

It also creates forum for health care providers, researchers, policy makers, health media and other stakeholders to open dialogue and exchange experiences, challenges, and solutions of their training programs under the Merck Foundation initiative, to help advance health care capacity, improve access to quality and equitable health care solutions, address the stigma and social perception of infertility, define interventions to improve access to  safe and effective fertility care and assist in improving cancer control and preventive programs.

Madam Bah-Barrow who is also an ambassador of the Merck Foundation “More than a Mother” campaign, thanked senator Dr Rasha Kelej CEO of Merck Foundation and president of Merck Foundation “More than a Mother” campaign for the wonderful partnership it established with African first ladies aimed at addressing the health care and educational challenges constraining millions of women and girls in the continent.

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She informed the gathering that since the inception of partnership between her organization and the Merck Foundation in 2018, significant progresses have been made towards improving health care delivery in the Gambia, address different forms of cultural related stigma and discrimination on infertility, gender based violence and child marriage among others.

On girls’ education, the Gambian first lady informed the gathering, positive efforts have been made in providing scholarships, mentorships and essential schools items to empower under privileged girls in their education careers.

“We highly welcome the collaboration with Merck Foundation to help address some of the health and special challenges in my country and together we have launched our long term partnership to build health care capacity for the next 10 years. So far we are able to make significant impacts on our future health experts, built and transform the landscape of the health care sector in the Gambia by providing special training for local doctors and other health professionals. I am happy to report that since the start of the partnership, through my office and my foundation in partnership with the Ministry of Health we have provided more than 60 scholarships to health care professionals,” she stated.

According to the Gambian First Lady, the partnership between her foundation FaBB and Merck Foundation have been going from strength to strength with milestone achievements on pertinent issues including infertility stigma.

She called for more comprehensive partnerships and collaborations to the fight against cervical and other forms of cancer, which she lamented continues to cause millions deaths among African women.

Addressing the delegates, Merck Foundation CEO, Senator Dr. Rasha Kelej, expressed gratitude to African first ladies for being at the forefront of programs geared to make transformative contributions to the health care and education sectors of their respective countries.

She assured the partners of Merck Foundation’s unreserved commitment to partner and support their endeavors in changing the narrative.

“Thank you all for recognizing my efforts and Merck Foundation’s commitment towards building healthcare capacity, transforming the patient care landscape with special focus on women’s health, and empowering women & girls so that they can reach their potential and pursue their dreams. I promise to continue to empower women, support girl education and improve access to quality and equitable healthcare in Africa, Asia and beyond,” Dr. Rasha assured partners shortly after receiving an award for being among 100 most influential African women.

The Merck CEO stated that she is proud to learn that the partnership between her foundation and offices of about 20 African first ladies, have already allocated over 1400 scholarships to young doctors from across the continent, with close to 50 percent being girls, “this is a great milestone for us,” she added.

The chairman of Merck Foundation Board of Trustees Dr Frank Stangenberg Haverkamp also addressed the event.

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