Many people are ill without realizing it. The result? Although effective medicines and therapies are available, these individuals do not receive treatment, or don’t receive it in time. To prevent such an outcome, we conduct global campaigns to raise awareness and improve knowledge of diseases, their symptoms and treatment options. Ultimately, healthcare professionals, communities and patients can only make informed decisions if they possess the appropriate knowledge and information.
Our approach to raising health awareness
Awareness plays a key role in our strategy to improve access to health. We seek to empower communities, medical professionals and patients with appropriate tools, information and skills so that they can make high-quality, informed decisions on prevention, diagnosis, treatment, care, and support.
In our educational campaigns for prevention, early diagnosis and awareness, we often join forces with strong partners. We also seek to build the capacities of medical professionals working in the fields of research, technology and healthcare.
How we're building awareness
Our efforts and the strategic direction of our awareness activities are aligned with our respective businesses. Thus, our various business units plan and implement our diverse awareness projects either on a global level, or through their national and local offices, organizing local projects according to the specific needs of the area in which they operate. In our global campaigns they are additionally responsible for local mobilization.
In 2017 we launched a foundation, a philanthropic limited liability company (gGmbH) that consolidates key initiatives as part of our efforts to support the community by building health awareness. A Board of Trustees consisting of members of the Board of Partners and the Executive Board of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany monitors the foundation's activities and acts in an advisory capacity.
Our commitment: Access to health through awareness
Awareness forms part of our A2H strategy, which is laid out in our Access to Health Charter. Our awareness campaigns are also subject to the responsible marketing principles set out in guidelines such as our “Pharma Code for Conducting Pharmaceutical Business and Pharmaceutical Operations“. They are also governed by our internal policies and guidance for reviewing our interactions with health systems and by the review processes for communication materials.
Global awareness campaigns
We regularly conduct campaigns to raise awareness of various diseases across the globe. Our efforts concentrate on those diseases that align with our core competencies, expertise and experience along the health value chain, in particular cancer (specifically colorectal, as well as head and neck cancer), thyroid disorders, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis (MS). In our awareness-raising activities we frequently collaborate with patient advocacy groups. In the 2017 period, we conducted or participated in multiple campaigns, enabling us to reach millions of people.
Awareness and knowledge transfer for thyroid disorders
Throughout 2017, we worked to raise awareness of thyroid disorders. On the global level, we updated our Thyroid Aware website and joined campaigns in support of International Women´s Day (IWD) and International Thyroid Awareness Week (ITAW). Within the ITAW we connected with more than 5,000 healthcare professionals (HCPs) and reached more than 2,500 people through our own events, of which more than half were directed at HCPs. Furthermore, over 158,000 people followed our own social media activities in 16 countries during the week.
million: During ITAW, we reached 13 million people through news coverage, social media and events. This was the ninth time we have participated in ITAW.
On the regional level, our National Endocrinology Congress in South Africa reached more than 2,000 people, including 300 HCPs. Other regional activities during ITAW 2017 included a public seminar held by our subsidiary in Indonesia in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, bringing together 100 HCPs and 250 members of local communities and non-governmental organizations. Our subsidiary in Jordan sent a bus around the country to carry out testing and raise awareness of thyroid disorders in women. It was approached by an estimated 1,100 women. In Saudi Arabia, we partnered with the Ministry of Health in a long-term awareness program named “Fly like a butterfly” and signed a memorandum of understanding to raise awareness of thyroid disorders. In Russia, our employees and endocrinologists shared their expertise on thyroid disorders and treatment options.
In the Philippines, we held our Unmasking Your Thyroid campaign for the third time in collaboration with the Philippine Thyroid Association (PTA) and the Philippine Ministry of Health. In its efforts to educate people on thyroid disease, this initiative utilizes a wide variety of media. It also offers training to health workers located in village communities, with approximately 250 people participating in 2017. Another integral feature of the campaign are workshops for general practitioners, which have provided 380 physicians with advanced training on the diagnosis and treatment of thyroid disorders since 2016. Furthermore, together with the PTA and healthcare provider Healthway, we’ve been offering training on accurately diagnosing thyroid disease since March 2017.
Awareness campaigns for cancer
In September 2017, we supported the fifth annual Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week, an initiative of the Make Sense campaign. Under the banner of “Supporting Survivorship”, teams from our Group came together in a global effort spanning nearly 30 countries to post more than 670 messages and pictures of themselves holding messages of support for head and neck cancer survivors. All images and videos were shared on our #SpeakUp wall microsite and our social media channels. Overall, our efforts generated more than 31,000 hits on social media.
On February 4, 2017, we joined World Cancer Day (WCD), an initiative driven by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) that aims to bring the cancer community closer together. We evolved the UICC’s three-year campaign “We can. I can.” and the 2017 motto “Support Through Sport” into our own call to action: “We can. I can. Jump in!” Participants were asked to submit images of themselves jumping in order to show their support in the fight against cancer. Our people worldwide provided over 500 photos from across 37 countries. The campaign was also opened to external audiences and received over 3,000 likes on social media.
In March, we recognized the colorectal cancer (CRC) Awareness Month 2017, an annual initiative to raise awareness of CRC, its symptoms and the importance of early diagnosis. As part of this initiative, we developed a multi-faceted campaign platform, as well as a website with an interactive pledge map, CRC quiz and factsheet. In total, we received pledges from six continents and over 60 countries.
World Multiple Sclerosis Day Activities
In May 2017, we supported World Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Day, an annual MS International Federation (MSIF) initiative. Under the banner of “Life with MS”, the campaign reflected the need for better understanding and a clearer focus on the needs of care partners living with MS sufferers. Under this umbrella, we launched the global campaign “MS2020”.
As part of the MS 2020 campaign, we announced a collaboration with the International Alliance of Carer Organizations (IACO). In partnership with IACO, we undertook a survey to deepen our understanding of the unmet needs of MS care partners. A preliminary analysis revealed that 41% of MS care partners suffer from anxiety, 38% from depression and 34% from insomnia. Additional data showed that many care partners suffer from chronic pain and worry about issues such as finances, intimacy, divorce, and parenting.
Also on World MS Day, we held a Tweetathon in which employees across 19 countries took part, sharing details of local awareness-raising activities under the hashtags #MS2020 and #LifeWithMS. Activities ranged from a sponsored run in the Netherlands to an outdoor photo exhibition in Norway. The content was viewed over 70,000 times, and local events run by our teams involved more than 1,500 external participants from the MS community and beyond.
Initiatives and programs from our Foundation
Launched in 2017, the Foundation sponsored by Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany manages key parts of our efforts to support underserved communities by building healthcare capacities and raising awareness. The foundation is also driving many of our existing initiatives and programs.
Instigating cultural change
Through our “More than a Mother” initiative, we aim to empower infertile women through access to information, education and health, as well as by encouraging a change of mindset. Defining interventions to break the stigma surrounding infertility and infertile women, the campaign was launched in Kenya in 2015 and is still being conducted in many Asian and African countries today. To further this cause, the Foundation sponsored by Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany is constantly seeking ways to engage government agencies and representatives in dialogue, leading it to take part in the 19th General Assembly of the African Union in 2017. Furthermore, we reached agreements with the several governments, including Uganda and Tanzania, to collaborate more closely on health awareness.
“More than a Mother” features an initiative called “Empowering Berna”, which helps infertile women to start their own business and thus achieve financial independence. The project was rolled out across six African nations in 2016 and expanded to include three additional countries in 2017. To date, more than 1,000 infertile women from Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Uganda have been enrolled in the project.
By the end of 2017, 23 embryologists and fertility specialists had taken part in our Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany Embryology Training program, a three-month practical seminar on fertility management also offered within the “More than a Mother” campaign.
Building healthcare capacities
Through our Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany Capacity Advancement Program launched in 2012, we’re collaborating with academic institutions in various countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East to train medical professionals. Through this effort, we are helping to build medical capacity and raise public awareness for diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and cancer, as well as infertility.
By the end of 2017, this program had reached more than 25,000 students from universities in Angola, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Uganda, Tanzania, and the United Arab Emirates, providing them with clinical diabetes and hypertension management training in a bid to equip them with skills to better treat and prevent these diseases. Our goal is to reach more than 30,000 students through this program by the end of 2018.
In 2017, we once again presented our Diabetes and Hypertension Awards to 37 medical students from over 30 universities in Africa and Asia. Through these awards, we have been building a platform of diabetes and hypertension experts across the globe and driving awareness in these fields since 2015.
To promote medical and scientific education, in October 2017 we hosted our fourth Africa Asia Luminary Congress in Cairo, which was attended by more than 450 African physicians, political decision makers and researchers. The event focused on contributions to socio-economic development in developing nations through sessions led by top international experts in diabetes, fertility, oncology, cardiology, family medicine, women’s health, and research.
Raising local awareness
Our Community Awareness Program offers easy access to information and educational materials tailored to local needs. We disseminate this information through broad-based social media campaigns and use videos and posters to amplify the initiative's reach. By partnering with healthcare, policy makers, institutions, governments, ministries of health, and teams of interdisciplinary experts, we have successfully launched a wide range of targeted initiatives.
Bolstering STEM education
Through our STEM Program, we are seeking to encourage more young people, especially women, to pursue an education in STEM fields. The third UNESCO Africa Research Summit of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany (MARS) once more offered a key platform to pave the way for young researchers in Africa. Held in Mauritius in November 2017, the event focused on the role of scientific research in response to the latest developments in cancer management and vaccines. We use this annual conference as an opportunity to present the Best African Woman Researcher Award and the Best Young African Researcher Award. UNESCO-MARS Research Award winners go on to become ambassadors for our STEM Program within their home countries.
Fighting cancer and its effects
Our Cancer Access Program was launched in 2015, with the specific aim of educating people about cancer and cancer treatment. Our “re than a Patient” initiative empowers African female cancer survivors to establish their own small business as a farmer or to open a shop. Thanks to the program’s training and support, they are able to lead an independent and productive life. To achieve this goal, we partner with cancer patient advocacy groups and cancer institutions across Africa.
Our Africa Oncology Fellowship Program focuses on increasing the number of oncologists in African nations and other developing countries. To this end, we have been offering various fellowships in collaboration with universities in Kenya, Egypt and India since 2016. By the end of 2017, 20 fellows had participated in this initiative.
Su-Swastha in India: Providing healthcare to rural regions
In India, around 700 million people reside in rural areas and have no access to effective, affordable healthcare. This is because medical facilities are concentrated in India's megacities, which account for 80% of the country’s healthcare professionals and 70% of its hospital beds. Through our Su-Swastha project we are working to improve healthcare in rural India. Our goal is to provide inexpensive medicines while also educating local patients and physicians on everyday health issues and their treatment. Medical professionals hold weekly community meetings on topics such as coughs, childhood ailments and prevention. Moreover, the program also provides patients with free check-ups and offers continuing medical education to help doctors advance their medical capacities. In 2017, a total of 482 community meetings were held, reaching 11,250 people directly. Every year around 70 workers from the health industry participate in our continuing education programs, with 346 people having received training since 2012. Due to its business model, the project is currently running self-sustainably. It was recognized as a best practice in the 2016 Access to Medicine Index.
Healthy Women, Healthy Economies initiative
We aim to help women unlock their economic potential and in doing so create an impact for global economic growth. Nearly one in four women worldwide are held back from achieving their full economic potential due to preventable causes, such as a wide range of communicable and non-communicable diseases. Healthy Women, Healthy Economies has taken up this challenge. In 2014, under the auspices of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), we collaborated with representatives of the United States and other governments to launch this public-private partnership (PPP). Comprising public and private sectors as well as non-governmental organizations, this initiative has developed a policy toolkit with recommendations to improve women’s health.
Under this program, we have joined forces with the Philippine government and the Philippine Thyroid Association (PTA) to educate more than 2,000 health industry employees on thyroid disorders, a problem that disproportionately affects women. By the end of 2017, we had reached nearly eight million people in the Philippines through our campaign. In Jordan, we collaborated with the NGO Royal Health Awareness Society to likewise train health workers on thyroid disorders in women. Moreover, in 2017 we formed a partnership with the Wilson Center. Hand-in-hand with this U.S.-based research institute we’re gathering data and increasing awareness to illustrate how important women's health is to their participation in the economy. Furthermore, we are developing policy recommendations designed to support women in both paid and unpaid work in an effort to achieve greater work-life integration and improve their overall health and well-being. Another collaboration with the University of Miami's Department of Public Health Sciences is currently focused on women’s unpaid labor in China, Canada, Chile, Mexico, and Peru.