Health awareness

Many people are sick without realizing it. The result? Although effective medicines and therapies may be 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. As part of our strategy to increase access to health in developing countries, we help create awareness by empowering healthcare professionals, communities and patients with appropriate tools, knowledge, information, and skills so that they can make high-quality, informed decisions.

Our principles

Global awareness campaigns

We regularly conduct global campaigns to raise awareness for various diseases. Our efforts concentrate on those conditions in which we have in-depth expertise stemming from our core business. These primarily include cancer (specifically colorectal as well as head and neck cancer), thyroid disorders, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis (MS). In our awareness activities, we frequently collaborate with patient advocacy groups. In the 2015-2016 period, we conducted and/or participated in 17 campaigns, enabling us to reach millions of people. Of particular success in 2016 was the thyroid awareness campaign we spearhead every year during International Thyroid Awareness Week, as were the Make Sense campaign held during Head & Neck Cancer Awareness Week and our World MS Day 2016 campaign.

In addition to these global efforts, we also lead special awareness initiatives to address specific local needs, such as anemia in Indonesia and malnutrition in Kenya. For such programs, we generally cooperate closely with national governments as well as other political actors. You can find more information under Access to health.

Vocational training and continuing education for health workers

In developing countries, we empower private and public sector health workers to make decisions on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases based on the latest medical knowledge. One of our key initiatives is our five-year Capacity Advancement Program (CAP). Among other goals, CAP aims to improve medical training for doctors in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. Further activities include continuing education for medical professionals in India through our Su-Swastha program and vocational training for pharmacy technicians in Tanzania.

These efforts form part of our commitment to improving access to health worldwide.


Social media campaign on head and neck cancer

Every year, we support the Make Sense campaign, an initiative of the European Head & Neck Society. Its objective is to raise public awareness of head and neck cancer and its symptoms in an effort to drive earlier presentation, diagnosis and referral, as well as improve outcomes. Moreover, we hope to dispel the misconception that head and neck cancer primarily impacts older smokers and people with alcoholism, as young adults can also develop this disease. In September 2016, as part of our “Letting our tongues do the talking” campaign, we called on our employees to send us pictures of themselves sticking out their tongues. We subsequently received more than 200 pictures from across 22 countries. Through this effort, we reached around 122,000 people worldwide via our social media channels, thereby raising awareness for head and neck cancer.

Twitter marathon for multiple sclerosis

We endeavor to support people with multiple sclerosis (MS) and regularly work to raise public awareness of this disease. For instance, in May 2016 we joined forces with the MS International Federation (MSIF) and local MS patient advocacy groups to participate in World MS Day. The theme for 2016 was “Independence”. With help from our worldwide MS patient ambassadors, we produced two movies entitled “MS – a silent disease” and “MS Does Not Stop Me”. These films illustrate how people with MS preserve their independence, refusing to let their disease defeat them. The heart of the 2016 campaign was a 24-hour tweetathon held across 24 countries. Using a variety of hashtags such as #strongerthanMS and #msday24, our employees and various stakeholders across the globe tweeted brief messages on multiple sclerosis. Through this campaign, we also highlighted the efforts of our sites worldwide to support MS sufferers, from fund raising to support local patient advocacy groups to rock concerts. The tweetathon generated a total of 2.7 million responses.

Thyroid health: Focusing on mothers

In 2016, we supported the International Thyroid Awareness Week hosted by Thyroid Federation International (TFI), the eighth time we have done so. A survey we commissioned in 2016 revealed that 84% of mothers worldwide could not correctly identify the most common symptoms of thyroid disorders in their children. Our campaign therefore aimed to help parents recognize the signs. To this end, we partnered with TFI to develop a film, a children's book and additional educational material. These tools utilize two butterfly cartoon characters called “Hypo” and “Hyper” to explain the symptoms of hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. The campaign reached around 20 million people across 34 countries. More than 14,500 people additionally received a thyroid check-up and, if irregularities were identified, were advised to see a general practitioner for further testing. You can find more details in our story Enriching lives.

Promoting women's health worldwide

Women in the workforce can have a profound impact on a country's productivity and prosperity, but only if they are healthy. In many countries, health issues often prevent women from obtaining and keeping a job, or hinder them from progressing in their career. This poses a challenge for both national economies as well as companies. A study has shown that economic success is predicated not only on increasing women’s participation in the labor market, but also on creating gender parity. According to the report by management consultant company McKinsey, these changes could add 28 trillion dollars to global annual by 2025.

Healthy Women, Healthy Economies (HWHE) has taken up this challenge. Under the auspices of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), we collaborated with representatives of the United States and other countries to initiate this in 2014. Comprising members from the public and private sectors as well as non-governmental organizations, HWHE has developed a policy toolkit with political measures aimed at eliminating labor market barriers that women face due to health issues. In September 2015, the toolkit was rolled out at the APEC Women in Economy Forum.

In a joint effort with the Philippine government, we have launched the first HWHE public-private partnership addressing thyroid health, a problem that disproportionately affects women.  In Jordan, we collaborated with the NGO Royal Health Awareness Society to roll out a similar program that likewise aims to bolster awareness for thyroid disorders among women.

Since 2016, we've also been partnering with the American Cancer Society (ACS) to raise awareness of women's cancers. In November 2016, we released a report entitled “The Global Burden of Cancer in Women”, which documents the mortality and incidence rate of cancers that affect women and the burden worldwide.

Su-Swastha: Healthcare for rural India

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 urban areas, 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. Healthcare 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 2016, 1,238 community meetings were held, reaching a total of 26,129 people.

For these efforts, we were recognized in the 2016 Access to Medicine Index.

Vocational training for pharmacy technicians in Tanzania

The healthcare systems in numerous developing countries are struggling with a shortage of pharmaceutical professionals. For instance, Tanzania has only around 3,000 pharmacists, pharmacy assistants and pharmacy technicians to meet the needs of the country’s more than 40 million inhabitants. This imbalance makes it especially hard for people in rural areas to access medicines.

To help relieve this situation, we supported a three-year program to expand vocational training facilities for pharmacy technicians. Under this initiative, which ran from 2014 until 2016, we partnered with the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) and the faith-based Kilimanjaro School of Pharmacy, as well as the companies Boehringer Ingelheim and Bayer HealthCare. We worked together to revise existing curricula into a new modular curriculum for a one- to three-year pharmaceutical training program. As a model school, the Kilimanjaro School of Pharmacy furthermore has been furnished with a laboratory and library and is additionally receiving financial support. The Global Pharma Health Fund donated four Minilabs and taught tutors from eight Tanzanian training centers how to use them to properly detect counterfeit medicines.

Expanding our Capacity Advancement Program

Through our Capacity Advancement Program (CAP), launched in 2012, we are collaborating with academic institutions to train medical professionals in the fields of research and development, clinical research, and drug safety to build capacity as well as to raise public awareness of non-communicable diseases (NCD) such as diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and infertility. Across the globe, CAP covers a wide array of initiatives with differing focuses.

By the end of 2016, our Universities Program had reached 17,000 students from universities in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Namibia, Ghana, Ethiopia, Angola, India, and the United Arab Emirates, providing them with European-accredited clinical diabetes and hypertension management training. Our goal is to reach more than 25,000 students through this program by the end of 2018. In 2015 and 2016, we presented the first-ever Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany Diabetes Award and Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany Hypertension Award to 20 promising medical students from universities in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana, Nigeria, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, and India, in an effort to drive research and awareness in these fields.

Our Africa Embryology Training Program, which seeks to improve access to fertility care, offers a three-month hands-on course that has already benefited ten African embryologists from Sub-Saharan Africa.

Furthermore, the 2016 Africa Luminary by Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany provided 460 African healthcare providers, policy makers and researchers with development sessions to improve disease management, early detection and prevention of NCDs.

In 2015, we also launched an awareness campaign for diabetes, hypertension, and cancer that has reached over 175,000 people in Kenya. By 2018, we hope to have reached 200,000 people to provide them with services such as diabetes screening.

Through our More than a Patient initiative, we empower women cancer survivors by educating them and helping them start their own small business so as to lead independent lives. Similarly, through More than a Mother, we provide information, education, and healthcare while also working to change the mindset and culture that stigmatizes infertility and infertile women. Through the Empowering Berna Project, we help women in such circumstances to start a business and achieve independence. More than 1,000 infertile women from Ghana, Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, Uganda, Kenya, and Nigeria were enrolled in the project in 2016.

The 2016 Africa Research Summit by the UNESCO and Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany sought to empower women in the fields of healthcare and research, where they are currently underrepresented in Africa. At the summit, we also launched the Best African Woman Research Awards in an effort to promote women’s contribution to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics ().

Good distribution practice (GDP)
An EU guideline that regulates the proper distribution of medicinal products for human use.
Public-private partnership (PPP)
A collaboration between public sector (government) organizations, private companies and/or not-for-profit organizations.
Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.