By Ojoma Akor
First ladies in the African region have pledged to ensure access to quality and equitable healthcare in their various countries and the region.
Thirteen first ladies made the commitment during the ongoing 8th edition of the Merck Foundation Africa Asia Luminary virtual conference held in partnership with the Government of Zambia.
Over 2000 participants from over 70 countries, and drawn from the health sector, academia, policy makers and the media are participating in the meeting.
While enumerating the milestones of Merck Foundation in addressing healthcare challenges in their various countries, the first ladies also promised to continue to partner with the foundation to build the capacity of health personnel and address stigma around infertility in the region .
Those taking part in the programme are the First Ladies of Ghana, Rebecca Akufo-Addo, Liberia, Clar Marie Weah, Zambia, Esther Lungu, Angola, Ana Dias Lourenço, Botswana, Neo Jane Masisi, and Burkina Faso Sika Kabore.
Others are First ladies of Guinea , Djènè Condé, Burundi, Angeline Ndayishimiye, Central African Republic, Brigitte Touadera, Democratic Republic of Congo , Denise Nyakeru Tshisekedi, Malawi, Monica Chakwera, Mozambique, Isaura Ferrão Nyusi and Namibia , Monica Geingos.
Madam Brigitte Touadera, the First Lady of the Central African Republic said, “On behalf of the Central African Republic, we are very proud and happy to partner with Merck Foundation and work closely with them to support us to advance and build our healthcare capacity in the Central Africa Republic and the rest of Africa.
“Till today we have enrolled 13 local doctors in the specialty training of oncology and diabetes and I will continue working closely with our ministry of health to identify the right candidates who will join the oncology, diabetes and fertility training and fellowship.
“Together with Merck Foundation, I am fully committed to work closely to introduce innovative ideas that will engage different sectors to create a culture shift with the aim to break the stigma of infertility and make a great impact in a short time.”
Rebecca Akufo-Addo, the First Lady of Ghana, said the partnership with the foundation, has enabled the country provide more than 60 healthcare providers with specialty training in the fields of cancer, diabetes, cardiology, endocrinology, respiratory, acute medicines, sexual and reproductive medicines, fertility and embryology.
“All these fields are very critical to our country. And definitely, this will contribute to our battle against coronavirus and other diseases. We are also working closely on ‘Educating Linda’ program to inspire girls and sensitize communities about the importance of girl education,” she said.
Dr. Rasha Kelej, Chief Executive Officer of Merck Foundation, said the foundation started the capacity building strategy in partnership with African First Ladies and Ministries of Health and medical societies since 2012, adding that it contributed significantly towards transforming the landscape of the public healthcare sector and towards advancing patient care in 42 countries.
She said more than 1, 100 doctors from 42 countries have benefited from Merck Foundation scholarship and that more will join in the next few years to benefit from more scholarships in more specialties .
Prof. Frank Stangenberg-Haverkamp , Chairman of Board of Trustees , Merck Foundation , and Chairman of the Executive Board of E. Merck KG, said the foundation in response to the pandemic focused on supporting livelihoods of thousands of women and casual workers’ families affected in more than 18 countries .
Inaugurating the conference, President of Zambia, Dr. Edgar Chagwa Lungu, said human resource for health is a critical investment in ensuring that people are healthy and productive. He enjoined African countries to continue programmes that build health capacity and train healthcare providers at all levels.
Argentina’s Health Ministry on Monday confirmed its first cases of the more contagious COVID-19 variants discovered in India and South Africa in three travelers returning to the South American country from Europe.
The Indian variant of the coronavirus was detected in two minors who returned from Paris, while the South African variant was found in a 58-year-old passenger returning from Spain, the ministry said in a statement.
The three passengers arrived at Buenos Aires International Airport on April 24 and were quarantined in a hotel.
“Since we began surveillance of genomic sequencing in travelers, we have identified ‘priority’ variants in almost 50% of positive cases,” Analia Rearte, the ministry’s head of epidemiology and strategic information, said in the statement.
Argentina, which is slowly carrying out a vaccination campaign, established new restrictions on the circulation of people in the country and certain activities in recent weeks due to the second wave of coronavirus infections.
The country has registered a total of 3,147,740 cases since the pandemic began and 67,325 deaths.
Nigeria on Monday introduced new restrictions, including a ban on mass gatherings, after a spike in COVID-19 cases in some countries.
Although Nigeria has seen a steady decline in new cases of the virus in recent months, the surges in India, Brazil and Turkey have raised fears of a third wave of the pandemic in Africa’s most populous nation.
Mukhtar Mohammed of the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) told reporters in Abuja that, despite existing travel restrictions on Brazil, India and Turkey, there was a need to take urgent action.
This is due, he said, to Nigerians’ non-compliance with the safety and health guidelines in place.
The beefed-up measures are designed “to mitigate the risk of a spike in new cases while the nationwide vaccine rollout continues,” Mohammed added.
He announced the closure of bars, nightclubs, pubs, event centers as well as recreational venues throughout the country.
Also under the new rules, the number of people allowed at weddings and religious gatherings is cut in half, while official engagements, meetings and conferences should be held online.
“Approved gatherings must be held with physical distancing measures and with other non-pharmaceutical measures in place”.
Nigeria had imposed restrictions and lockdowns in March last year to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
But those restrictions were relaxed following a drop in virus cases in the country.
So far, the virus has infected 165,419 and claimed 2,065 lives since the first case in February last year, according to official figures.
A total of 1.7 million vaccine jabs have been administered to health workers and other vulnerable groups in the country.