We use our expertise to support health initiatives all over the world, particularly concentrating on promoting local healthcare infrastructure, providing vocational training and continuing education for medical professionals, and educating people on health issues. In particular, we are dedicated to fighting the neglected tropical disease schistosomiasis.
Our commitment: The principles governing our community involvement
As in the other areas in which we support the community, we align our health activities with our Group Policy on Contributions to Society. In addition to this policy, our Access to Health Charter also governs all health initiatives, covering pharmaceutical product donations, counterfeit medicines, and research and development for neglected tropical diseases. We calculate the value of our pharmaceutical product donations according to the WHO Guidelines for Medicine Donations.
Worldwide, more than 200 million people suffer from schistosomiasis, a tropical parasitic infection that causes over 280,000 deaths in Africa every year. In an effort to battle this disease, we developed the active ingredient praziquantel in the 1970s under a joint research partnership. This drug is the only active ingredient that can treat all forms of schistosomiasis. Since 2007, we have been partnering with the World Health Organization (WHO) and providing them with donations of praziquantel tablets.
In 2017, we formed our Global Health Institute with the aim of creating innovative and integrated healthcare solutions for underserved populations in developing countries. Through our institute, we are also an active member of the Pediatric Praziquantel Consortium, a partnership we initiated. Within this consortium, we are working hand in hand with our partners on the development of a pediatric formulation of praziquantel for children under six. In a bid to achieve this objective, in 2016 the Global Health Institute launched a Phase II study in Côte d'Ivoire. We expect the initial results of the study to be available in 2018.
Schistosomiasis: 150 million children treated
We keep production capacities at a level sufficient for manufacturing 250 million praziquantel tablets a year. In response to the needs of the World Health Organization, in 2017 we donated approximately 150 million tablets for distribution in 26 African countries. This year, our donation program was expanded to include Egypt and Uganda. Since its launch, we have supplied almost 700 million tablets free of charge, enabling the treatment of 150 million patients, primarily school children.
Spreading education and awareness
Since 2012, we've been donating comic booklets to African schools in a bid to help educate children on schistosomiasis. In easy-to-understand terms, these booklets explain how people can protect themselves against this tropical disease. In 2017, the materials went to 12 African countries, seven of which for the first time. In cooperation with WHO, we provided schools with approximately 200,000 booklets in five different languages.
In addition to these efforts, we also supplied WHO with around 20,000 educational brochures and 2,000 posters on female genital schistosomiasis, the first time we have provided information on this specific manifestation of the disease. In endemic countries, this form of the infection is rarely mentioned in medical curricula or text books, meaning female genital schistosomiasis often goes undetected or is misdiagnosed. These materials aim to educate physicians on the symptoms to make it easier to diagnose the condition.
Our Schistosomiasis Education Project
Since 2016, we’ve been financially supporting NALA, a foundation that works in concert with local communities to improve the water supply and sanitation while also educating people about neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). In 2017, the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health tasked the NALA Foundation with carrying out a national technical assistance project to combat NTDs. Through improving sanitation and education, the foundation aims to make lasting behavioral change – a crucial step to eliminating schistosomiasis. This project is set to reach approximately 290 schools with over 260,000 students in Bench Maji, a region in southwestern Ethiopia. The goal is to extend this model to other regions in Africa. Under our Schistosomiasis Education Project launched in 2017, we're providing the NALA Foundation with nearly € 300,000 over a period of three years.
Central platform in the battle against schistosomiasis
We realize that we’re not going to eliminate schistosomiasis with tablets alone. That is why, at the end of 2014, we launched the Global Schistosomiasis Alliance (GSA) and joined forces with international partners in a bid to address the remaining gaps in the fight against this infection. Its founding members include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and World Vision International.
In 2017, the GSA expanded its role as a central platform in the fight against schistosomiasis, acquiring a series of international NGOs as new members. As well as organizing several conferences, it took part in various projects aimed at driving local efforts to combat schistosomiasis. In Egypt, for instance, the GSA contributed its expertise to support the Ministry of Health in implementing its national strategy to eliminate the tropical disease.
In addition to these efforts, the GSA garnered attention at the 2017 Neglected Tropical Diseases Summit in Geneva with its #MakingSchistory campaign. Conducted to mark the the tenth anniversary of our Praziquantel Donation Program, this campaign has helped raise awareness for the disease. Moreover, the GSA also published a report entitled “The people #MakingSchistory: The global fight against schistosomiasis. This work recognizes the outstanding successes of people dedicated to combating the tropical disease and explains how it can be defeated once and for all.
Fighting counterfeit medicines
According to a report published by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2017, more than 10% of all medicines in developing and emerging countries are counterfeit or substandard, making them a major health risk. The Global Pharma Health Fund (GPHF), a non-profit initiative funded by our company, is fighting counterfeit medicines with its GPHF Minilab®.
The GPHF Minilab® is a portable, compact laboratory that fits into a tropics-resistant suitcase and can detect falsified medicines quickly, easily and inexpensively. The GPHF develops the Minilabs, supplies them at cost and provides training on how to use them. According to the aforementioned WHO report, the Minilab is one of the most important tools for detecting counterfeit, substandard and falsified medicines. As part of a study published in this report, more than 20,000 pharmaceutical samples were tested using the Minilab, with more than 1,000 of them identified as counterfeit. An international study conducted by the Difäm-EPN Minilab Survey Group in 2017 also reaffirmed how the GPHF Minilab® has helped ensure access to safe medicines in developing countries. The Minilab is currently the only product of its kind.
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, U.S. and German aid organizations, faith-based networks, or the incoming goods inspection unit of faith-based healthcare facilities.
Expanding Minilab use
In 2017, the GPHF developed testing methods for five additional active ingredients. As of early 2018, the Minilab can now test 90 active ingredients, ranging from antimalarials, antihistamines and analgesics, to antipyretics and antibiotics.
Since 1998, the GPHF has supplied a total of 836 Minilabs to nearly 100 countries, 41 of which were provided in 2017 alone. Of these 41 test kits, our company donated six to the pharmaceutical regulatory agency in Sierra Leone. The frequent reordering of materials confirms that the Minilabs are in high circulation.
Minilab training seminars
In 2017, the GPHF and its partners held a total of ten seminars for Minilab users, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa, which were attended by well over 100 people. During these seminars, participants learn how to correctly test medicines using the compact laboratory. While the number of Minilab seminars is increasing every year, the GPHF itself is called on for support less and less. This is a good sign: The Minilab is gaining traction, and users are taking the initiative to share their knowledge with others.
Health projects worldwide
We are dedicated to improving medical care around the world. Every year, our Global Medical Education Department sponsors an array 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, which ultimately benefits patients. In 2017, we supported more than 70 different continuing education programs offered by 30 independent educational institutions in the medical sector with over € 7 million. Via e-learning platforms and continuing education courses, more than 350,000 medical professionals took advantage of the offerings of these institutions.
In 2017, we launched the Broaden Your Horizon program, which encourages our Biopharma employees to spend three months working at an NGO in a developing or emerging country. During their stay, they have the opportunity to contribute to improving the quality of local healthcare, while also broadening their own horizons. Four of our employees took part in an initial pilot project in India, where they contributed their expertise in fields such as laboratory management and data analysis.
Established in 2017, the Foundation sponsored by Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany also seeks to raise health awareness and improve healthcare in low- and middle-income countries. Consolidating many of our existing projects under one roof, its main aim is to bolster our access to health efforts.
We also support a wide variety of other projects, an overview of which can be found on our website.