We support health initiatives around the world. While our efforts are particularly focused on eliminating the neglected tropical disease schistosomiasis, we are also involved in the fight against counterfeit medicines in developing countries.
More than 200 million people in Africa suffer from the tropical worm disease schistosomiasis. It is estimated that more than 280,000 people die per year as a result of this parasitic infection.
In the 1970s, we developed the active ingredient praziquantel as part of a joint research partnership. It is the only active ingredient with which all forms of schistosomiasis can be treated. Since 2007, we have been donating praziquantel tablets to the World Health Organization (WHO), up to 250 million per year depending on need.
We realize that we’re not going to eliminate this insidious disease with tablets alone. That is why we launched the Global Schistosomiasis Alliance (GSA) at the end of 2014, to address the remaining gaps in the fight against schistosomiasis. Its founding members include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and World Vision International.
Within the Pediatric Praziquantel Consortium, a partnership we initiated, we are currently working on the development of a pediatric formulation of praziquantel for children under six. Moreover, we are supporting educational campaigns at schools in Africa. Using comic booklets and posters, we teach children about the causes of schistosomiasis along with ways to prevent the disease.
Fighting counterfeit medicines
Interpol estimates that up to 30% of all medicines in developing countries are illegal, counterfeit or substandard – and thus pose a deadly hazard.
The Global Pharma Health Fund (GPHF), a non-profit initiative funded by our company, is dedicated to fighting counterfeit medicines. As part of its efforts, the GPHF has developed the Minilab, a portable, compact laboratory in a tropics-resistant suitcase. This kit can detect counterfeit medicines quickly, easily and inexpensively, and enables trained personnel to check medicines for external abnormalities, identity and contents. There is currently no other product like it. The GPHF provides the Minilabs at cost.
The majority of Minilabs are deployed in countries in Africa and Asia. These test kits are primarily utilized by national health agencies – often in partnership with the labs of governmental drug inspection centers or within multilateral health initiatives led by various UN organizations (including WHO, UNOPS, UNICEF), U.S. and German aid organizations (for example USAID, PQM/USP, PFSCM, GIZ), the Global Fund (GFATM), and faith-based networks (EPN, Difäm).
Alone or in collaboration with international partners, the Global Pharma Health Fund also trains local health workers to correctly perform the tests using the Minilabs.
Health projects worldwide
Our subsidiaries also support health efforts around the world. These projects primarily focus on supporting the development of local healthcare systems, providing vocational training and continuing education for medical professionals, and raising public health awareness.
Schistosomiasis: 100 million children treated
In 2016, we donated more than 200 million praziquantel tablets to WHO for distribution across 33 African countries. Since starting the program, we have supplied WHO with more than 500 million tablets free of charge. In total, this has enabled the treatment of over 100 million patients, primarily school children.
Beyond donating medicine, we are also working on the development of a new formulation of praziquantel so that children under the age of six can also receive treatment, a currently unmet need. To this end, we launched a Phase II study in Ivory Coast in 2016.
Global effort to fight schistosomiasis
Since its establishment in 2014, the Global Schistosomiasis Alliance (GSA) has become the central platform in the fight against this parasitic infection. In various working groups, the members of the alliance are developing projects to eliminate the disease in Sub-Saharan Africa. In October 2015, for instance, the GSA held a conference in Cotonou, Benin to step up the dialogue between NTD (neglected tropical diseases) project managers in endemic countries. Moreover, in collaboration with China’s National Institute of Parasitic Diseases, the GSA Research Group hosted a meeting of international schistosomiasis experts in June 2016.
With its website and social media presence, the GSA has also developed a successful communication platform. In 2015, for instance, the digital campaign Something in the Water managed to create greater awareness for schistosomiasis and went on to win six prizes, namely the German Digital Award, the German Brand Award, the Econ Special Award, all of which are Germany-based, the European silver People's Lovie Award, the U.S.-based Annual Multimedia Award, and the U.S.-based W3 Award.
Schistosomiasis education program expanded
In partnership with WHO, we are providing posters and booklets to African schools that are available in English, French, Arabic, Portuguese, and Swahili. In 2016, we expanded our education program and donated a total of 340,000 booklets to WHO for distribution in ten countries (Ivory Coast, Mali, Burundi, Congo, Nigeria, Rwanda, Ghana, Sudan, Guinea Bissau, and Tanzania).
In 2015, the team responsible for our Praziquantel Donation Program received an internal Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany Award of € 10,000. These employees chose to donate the funds to the NALA Foundation to support a WASH (water, sanitation, hygiene) project in Ethiopia that is working to improve the water supply in schools so as to ensure proper sanitation there. The WASH project is an example of how the NALA Foundation is working to combat the root causes of schistosomiasis.
The NALA Foundation works toward eliminating the root causes of neglected tropical diseases and other diseases that are often related to poverty. Through health education and community engagement, the aim is to facilitate behavioral change.
In addition to supporting this initiative, in 2015 we also helped the Uraha Foundation Germany set up a local radio station in the north of Malawi. Called Radio Dinosaur, the station reports on politics, environmental issues, history, culture, and health in the local languages of Kyangonde and ChiTumbuka. It also broadcasts awareness pieces on schistosomiasis.
Counterfeit medicines: Expanding Minilab use
In 2016, the Global Pharma Health Fund (GPHF), a non-profit initiative funded by our company, developed testing methods for five additional active ingredients. As of 2017, the Minilab can now test 85 active ingredients, ranging from antimalarials and antibiotics, to analgesics and antipyretics.
Since 1998, the GPHF has supplied 795 Minilabs to 95 countries at cost, 109 of which were provided in 2015 and 2016 alone. 80% went to nations in Sub-Saharan Africa. Of the 109 test kits, the GPHF donated seven and our company nine Minilabs to African pharmaceutical regulatory agencies and health projects in Ghana, Tanzania, Mozambique, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ivory Coast.
In the 2015-2016 period, we also hosted six Minilab seminars in Tanzania, Angola, Kenya, Zambia, Rwanda, and Mozambique, with well over 100 participants. In 2016, a one-day Minilab workshop was also held in Germany as part of the “Pharmacology in international development and disaster relief” course, which was offered by the Pharmaceutical Institute of the University of Tübingen.
New partnership in fight against counterfeit medicines
In 2016, the GPHF joined forces with the German Federal Ministry for Cooperation and Development (BMZ) for the first time ever to collaborate on a project for the six member states of the East African Community (EAC). As part of this effort, the BMZ provided 20 Minilabs in total, with six sent to Rwanda, and a further six each for Burundi and Tanzania/Zanzibar. In 2016, the first-ever Central Minilab Capacity Building workshop was held in the Rwandan capital of Kigali for participants from the EAC member states of Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania/Zanzibar. This project is being spearheaded by the National Metrology Institute of Germany (PTB).
Projects across the globe
In India, we are cooperating with the non-profit organization Narmada Samagra. Their river ambulance transports health workers and provides healthcare solutions to local populations living in the remote region along the Narmada River. In early 2016, we donated a new boat to Narmada Samagra so that they can reach even more people. The river ambulance serves around 12,000 people along a 200-kilometer stretch of river.
We are working to improve medical care around the world. Every year, our Global Medical Education Department sponsors a number of continuing education initiatives for healthcare professionals. In doing so, we are helping build the capacities of nurses and physicians, increasing their awareness of symptoms and familiarizing them with advanced treatment methods. This enhanced expertise ultimately benefits patients. In 2016, we supported more than 90 different continuing education programs offered by 25 independent educational institutions in the medical sector with over € 10 million. Via e-learning platforms and continuing education courses, more than 150,000 medical professionals benefited from the courses offered by these institutions.
We also support a wide variety of other projects. An overview of our efforts is provided on our website.