• The scarcity of trained healthcare personnel capable of tackling prevention, early diagnosis and management of cancer is a bigger challenge in Africa than the lack of financial resources.

    University of Nairobi has been chosen by Merck group, to pioneer the first Merck Africa Medical Oncology Fellowship Program for Sub-Saharan African countries.

    The program will be part of Merck’s efforts to improve access to cancer care and strengthen the healthcare system in emerging markets.

    In a first step, Merck will sponsor nine medical doctors from Sub-Saharan African countries. These countries include Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and South Africa among others. Those who will be selected will undergo the fellowship program for a period of two years. Apart from this the program will be extended to other African countries in the following year.

    Merck will also support another five African doctors to participate in a pediatric and adult medical fellowship program, which will be held annually at Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, India. This program is scheduled to start in August this year.

    “We are committed to improving patient’s access to healthcare all over the world,” said Rasha Kelej, who is the Chief Social Officer of the healthcare business sector of Merck.

    “In Africa, where the number of oncologists is very limited, this starts by building additional medical capacity. Our new program aims to increase the number of qualified oncologists across the continent. We firmly believe that initiatives like ours are very helpful for Africa and also in a further step for more developing countries,” he added.

    Merck over the past years has significantly stepped up its activities on the African continent with an expected doubling of sales by 2020. In addition to its cancer drug Erbitux, the company is also making fast progress in the field of immuno-oncology, aimed at mobilizing the body’s own immune system to fight cancer.

    Prof. Isaac Kibwage, Principal of Colleges of Health Sciences, University of Nairobi, said they believe that the only way to effectively prevent, detect and treat the rising number of cancer cases in Africa, is through establishing public-private partnerships between health ministries, academia, and industry in implementing successful programs such as the partnership with Merck.

    He added that this fellowship program will not only target Kenyan doctors but doctors from Sub-Saharan African countries as well with the aim of improving the quality and accessibility of cancer care in the continent.

    The shortage of oncologists threatens cancer care in Africa. According to World Health Organization (WHO), by 2020 there are expected to be 15 million new cases of cancer every year. 70% of this will be in developing countries where governments are least prepared to address the growing cancer burden. The survival rates are often less than half those of more developed countries.

    According to research done by Merck, Kenya only has 13 oncologists, most of them based in Nairobi. For a population of 47 million, this means one oncologist per 3.6 million people.

    For reference, in the UK there are around 13 oncologists per 1 million people. Moreover, in Ethiopia there are only four oncologists, all based in Addis Ababa for a population of around 100 million inhabitants.

    Image Credit: http://karenhospital.org/