Nigeria: African First Ladies Commit to Equitable Healthcare, Capacity Building in Region

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.

Read the original article on Daily Trust.

Argentina confirms first cases of COVID-19 variants from India, South Africa

By Reuters

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA: A motorcyclist is COVID-19 tested by a health worker at the Costa Salguero convention center on April 7, 2021 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo by Ricardo Ceppi/Getty Images)

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 bans mass gatherings after virus spikes


A view from Nigeria’s Lagos city as people continuing their daily lives in crowded area amid the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. (Photo by Adeyinka Yusuf/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

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.

Kenya’s COVID-19 vaccine shots administered to over 900,000 people


Phase 1 of the Covid-19 vaccination program at Mbagathi Hospital, in Nairobi, Kenya. (Photo by Robert Bonet/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Kenya’s Ministry of Health said on Monday the country had inoculated more than 900,000 people against COVID-19 amid intensified efforts to contain the pandemic.

Mutahi Kagwe, cabinet secretary in the Ministry of Health said that 917,068 persons had been vaccinated against the coronavirus countrywide since the exercise began early March.

“Of these, 280,876 are aged 58 years and above, health workers, 160,947, teachers, 143,684, security officers, 77,417 while 254,144 are in the others category,” Kagwe said in a statement released in Nairobi.

He said the government was keen to boost COVID-19 vaccine uptake amid skepticism among sections of the population linked to misinformation about its side effects.

In the wake of emerging questions over possible adverse effects following immunizations, those who have been vaccinated are encouraged to report any side effects, said Kagwe. Members of the public are encouraged to report adverse effects of the COVID-19 vaccine to the country’s drugs regulatory agency or nearest health facility for a speedy response.

Kenya is racing against time to inoculate high-risk groups including healthcare workers, the elderly and terminally ill against coronavirus amid vaccine doses supply crunch linked to the crisis in India.

The east African nation in early March received 1.02 million COVID-19 vaccine doses from AstraZeneca under the COVAX facility and plans to administer booster shots from July when the second shipment is expected to arrive.

Kagwe said in April the government was keen to diversify sources of vaccines against coronavirus to help plug a shortfall occasioned by the current global supply crunch.

The emergency use authorization for China’s Sinopharm vaccine by the World Health Organization (WHO) on May 7 is expected to boost access to the life-saving commodity in Kenya and other developing countries.

Kenya has confirmed 163,620 COVID-19 cases, 112,298 recoveries and 2,907 fatalities as of Monday.

Botswana, Zambia open Kazungula bridge connecting both countries


Botswana and Zambia on Monday jointly opened the Kazungula bridge, which is composed of a roadway and a rail track over the Zambezi river that connects the two countries as well as a one-stop border post.

Photo shows the Kazungula bridge linking Botswana and Zambia, which is composed of a roadway and a rail track over the Zambezi river that connects the two countries, as well as a one-stop border post. (Photo by Tshekiso Tebalo/Xinhua)

The $259.3 million bridge, which is 923 meters long, is expected to facilitate access to international markets through connectivity with major seaports and to improve the efficiency of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi said the Kazungula bridge will pave the way for trade improvement, job creation and economic diversification in SADC countries. “By and large, that will significantly accelerate the SADC’s regional integration process, which we are vigorously pursuing.”

Zambian President Edgar Lungu said the bridge demonstrated excellent relations between the two countries.

“The Kazungula bridge project was worth the effort, (and) the transit traffic through Kazungula will greatly improve due to reduced transit time as well as improved trade facilitation measures and border management operations because of the inclusion of the one-stop border post,” he said.

Lungu further acknowledged financial support from the governments of China, South Korea, Japan and the African Development Bank.

The Kazungula project started in 2014 and the border post facility is expected to operate 22 hours per day.

Egypt to produce 60m doses of Sinovac COVID-19 vaccines from next month

By Jerry Omondi


Egypt is set to begin the production of 60 million doses of the Chinese Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine starting next month, said Mohammed Abdel Fattah, the head of the central administration for preventive affairs at Egypt’s Ministry of Health.

The Egyptian Holding Company for Biological Products and Vaccines (VACSERA) and Chinese biopharmaceutical company Sinovac signed an agreement in April to manufacture the jabs right in the country.

The signing ceremony was witnessed by Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly, Health Minister Hala Zayed and Chinese Ambassador to Egypt Liao Liqiang.

The production of the Sinovac doses locally is expected to fast track Egypt’s vaccination drive.

So far, only 1.3 million of the country’s population of over 100 million people have received the vaccines, with the country only having received 2.5 million doses so far.

Egypt’s mass vaccination drive relies on the Chinese Sinopharm and the British-Swedish Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines.

Cristian Rodriguez wins 2021 Tour du Rwanda

By Halligan Agade

Cristian Rodriguez, who rides for Total Direct Energie, has become the first Spanish and European rider to win the Tour du Rwanda.

Rodriguez also won the final stage eight after clocking 2 hours, 5 minutes and 6 seconds in the 75km distance race.

He was followed by Piccoli James of Israel Startup Nation who came in second place while Alex Hoehn finished third.

For the third consecutive edition of the annual UCI Africa Tour race, Rwandan riders failed to win a single stage.

Namibians celebrate Mother’s Day with appreciation amid COVID-19 pandemic


A woman sells cupcakes and other products at Mother’s Day brunch market in Namibia’s capital of Windhoek, on May 9, 2021. (Photo by Ndalimpinga Iita/Xinhua)

On Sunday, many people in Namibia celebrated Mother’s Day, focusing on appreciation amid rapid deaths due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Selma Titus, 28, from the capital Windhoek, bought her mother a special gift. According to Titus, who is also a mother of one, the extra effort made to acknowledge her mother is based on understanding and experience as a new parent.

“Parenting is not easy. Therefore, on this special day, the gift is meant to express my heartfelt gratitude to my mother for all she has done for me since childhood,” she said on Sunday.

She is not the only one. Hans David celebrates Mother’s Day to honour his mother’s sacrifices through school and love shared.

“Today I am celebrating her life because of the uncertainty presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. You never know when a loved one will succumb,” he said.

Many people also resorted to social media platforms such as TikTok, Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp to express appreciation to their mothers.

“When we say mothers are so amazing, humble, we mean it. A mother is irreplaceable. Let us respect all the mothers. Mommy, I salute and love you,” expressed Paulina Lugambo on her WhatsApp status.

Meanwhile, local entrepreneurs also organised events and specials on prizes.

Melvin Skrywer, an artist and entrepreneur from Engravea Dream, sold Mother’s Day themed products at a Mother’s Day bunch market at the local Mekenificent Wellness Centre on Sunday in Windhoek. Products included engraved keychains and holders and other artistic products with messages themed around the day.

“The aim is to accord people the opportunity to get something unique and special for their mothers and other mother figures,” he said.

Mekenificent Wellness Centre also organised brunch and vouchers for Mother’s Day.

While efforts made by many to recognise their mothers are notable, gender equality experts, are however, advocating for locals to appreciate their parents every day and not just wait until internationally acclaimed days to express gratitude.

Ngamane Karuaihe-Upi, a gender equality practitioner, said that as observed over the years, most people would acknowledge their mothers only on social media platforms and not even bother to call them or visit them. While others would buy flowers or gifts yet continuously give their parents grieve throughout the year.

A woman sells cupcakes and other products at Mother’s Day brunch market in Namibia’s capital of Windhoek, on May 9, 2021. (Photo by Ndalimpinga Iita/Xinhua)

“On an ordinary day, one rarely notice the effort as is done on Mother’s Day. That is superficial love. A major shift and transformation are required. Individuals ought to do better,” he said.

According to the expert, the world should embrace and have compassion for their parents and guardians every day.

“This should be demonstrated through regular contact with parents, action, support and tender care. Mother’s Day is supposed to be a culmination of everyday acts of love and care towards parents,” he concluded.

Africa’s COVID-19 infections surpass 4.6 million mark

By Jerry Omondi


The number of COVID-19 in Africa has surpassed the 4.6 million mark as the continent continues efforts to contain the pandemic.

According to the latest figures by the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, a total of 4,601,155 cases have been reported from 44,839,442 tests conducted.

The continent has also registered 123,977 virus-related deaths.

South Africa remains to be the hardest-hit country by the pandemic in Africa, having recorded 1,594,817 infections with 54,724 deaths.

The country’s caseload is more than three times the tally registered by Morocco, whose 513,628 cases are the second-highest in Africa.

Only three more countries on the continent have reported more than 200,000 COVID-19 cases; Tunisia (319,512), Ethiopia (262,217) and Egypt (236,272).

Besides South Africa, only Egypt (13,845 ) and Tunisia (11,350) have recorded more than 10,000 virus-related fatalities.

Most countries on the continent have already rolled out mass vaccination programs in efforts to contain the pandemic.

The vaccinations have largely targeted healthcare workers, the elderly, persons with underlying health conditions and those providing essential services.

Various countries have also imposed containment measures including lockdowns, nighttime curfews, bans on public gatherings and mandatory wearing of face masks.

The 8th Edition of Merck Foundation Africa Asia Luminary Inaugurated by Zambia President and 13 African First Ladies

Business Wire India

8th edition of Merck Africa Asia Luminary 2021
  • Merck Foundation annual conference was inaugurated by the President of the Republic of Zambia, H.E. Dr. EDGAR CHAGWA LUNGU and Prof. Dr. Frank Stangenberg-Haverkamp Chairman of both of Executive Board of E.Merck KG and Merck Foundation Board of Trustees
  • The 8th Edition of “Merck Foundation Africa Asia Luminary” was co-chaired by H.E. ESTHER LUNGU, The First Lady of the Republic of Zambia and Senator, Dr. Rasha Kelej, CEO of Merck Foundation
  • African First Ladies of Angola, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Guinea Conakry, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, and Namibia were the Guests of Honour for the Luminary.
  • More than 75,000 participants, healthcare providers, policymakers, and academia from 70 countries attended the Luminary.

Merck Foundationand Senator, Dr. Rasha Kelej, CEO of Merck Foundation.

During his keynote speech, while inaugurating the conference, The President of Zambia, H.E Dr. EDGAR CHAGWA LUNGU emphasized, “I am very glad to be hosting this important conference together with Merck Foundation, our long term strategic partner. It is a great honor to inaugurate the conference alongside the First Ladies of Africa. I am certain that this conference will help us to further explore partnership opportunities and introduce new frameworks for cooperation in the area of health care capacity building and to define interventions to break infertility stigma and support girl education.”

Prof. Dr. Frank Stangenberg-Haverkamp Chairman of both of Executive Board of E.Merck KG and Merck Foundation Board of Trustees expressed, “I would like to welcome and also thank our partners, African First Ladies, African Ministers and health experts from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the rest of the world to join hands with us in order to realize Merck Foundation’s vision: ‘Everyone in the world should lead a happy and fulfilling life’, we have achieved together, a huge success and we are going to continue and extend our support to achieve more.”
During her Keynote address and welcome speech, H.E. Mrs. ESTHER LUNGU, The First Lady of Zambia and Co-chairperson of Merck Foundation Africa Asia Luminary 2021 emphasized, “I am very happy to co-chair and host this important conference of Merck Foundation and also to celebrate together the 4th anniversary of Merck Foundation, our long term partner in building healthcare capacity and improving access to health, information and breaking the infertility stigma. Also, I am delighted to have my dear sisters, The First Ladies of Africa at this conference.”
Merck Foundation CEO, Senator, Dr. Rasha Kelej emphasized, “We welcomed The First Ladies of 13 African Countries, who are also the Ambassadors of Merck Foundation More than a Mother, to this important conference. Together, we have worked closely throughout the years on a strong strategy to build healthcare capacity by providing specialized training in various specialties; and define interventions to break infertility stigma and support girls’ education.

I am very proud that we have so far provided for more than 1100 Doctors from 42 countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America with one & two-, three-year specialty training in multiple fields such as Oncology, Diabetes, Preventative Cardiovascular Medicine, Endocrinology, Sexual and Reproductive Medicine, Acute Medicine, Respiratory Medicine, Human Assisted Reproduction and Embryology & Fertility specialty, to be the first in their countries. Moreover, we have now widened our horizons by introducing more scholarships for young doctors in many new underserved specialties across Africa and Asia.”
The 8th Edition of the Luminary marked another important milestone: the 4th Anniversary of Merck Foundation.
As part of the Luminary, Merck Foundation First Ladies Initiative Committee (MFFLI) High-Level Panel was conducted, which was attended by the 13 African First Ladies, who are the Ambassadors of Merck Foundation More Than a Mother.
The keynote address was delivered by H.E. Mrs. ESTHER LUNGU, The First Lady of the Republic of Zambia as the host and co-chairperson of the conference along withH.E. Mrs. ANA DIAS LOURENÇO, The First Lady of the Republic of AngolaH.E. Mrs. NEO JANE MASISI, The First Lady of the Republic of BotswanaH.E. Madam SIKA KABORE, The First Lady of Burkina FasoH.E. Madam ANGELINE NDAYISHIMIYE, The First Lady of the Republic of BurundiH.E. Madam BRIGITTE TOUADERA, The First Lady of Central African RepublicH.E. Madam DENISE NYAKERU TSHISEKEDI, The First Lady of the Democratic Republic of The CongoH.E. Mrs. REBECCA AKUFO-ADDO, The First Lady of the Republic of GhanaH.E. Madam DJÈNÈ CONDÉ, The First Lady of the Republic of Guinea ConakryH.E. Mrs. CLAR MARIE WEAH, The First Lady of the Republic of LiberiaH.E. Mrs. MONICA CHAKWERA, The First Lady of the Republic of MalawiH.E. Mrs. ISAURA FERRÃO NYUSI, The First Lady of the Republic of MozambiqueH.E. Mrs. MONICA GEINGOS, The First Lady of the Republic of Namibia 
The Day 1 of the 8th edition of Merck Foundation Africa Asia Luminary was attended by more than 75,000 participants, Healthcare providers, policymakers, academia, researchers, and media from more than 70 Countries in three languages English French and Portuguese.
On Day 2 of the conference, MARS- Merck Foundation Africa Research Summit will be held where a High-Level Panel Discussion with Ministers of Health, Science and Technology, Education, Information And Gender and MARS Researchers will be held with the objective to empower African young researchers & women researchers, advancing their research capacity and empower them in STEM.
On the third day, 29th April, Merck Foundation Health Media Training will be organized for the African and Latin American Media fraternity to emphasize the important role that media plays to break the stigma around infertility, in raising awareness about infertility prevention, and empowering girls and women through education.
Other important scientific sessions in different medical fields will also be held in parallel on Day 2 and Day 3 of the Luminary.
Countries participating include Angola, Bangladesh, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Canada, Central Africa Republic, Cambodia, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, France, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, Guinea – Bissau, Guinea – Conakry, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tanzania, Thailand, The Gambia, Togo, Tunisia, U.A.E, UK, Uganda, US, Vietnam, Zambia, Zimbabwe and more.

The 8th Edition of Merck Foundation Africa Asia Luminary will be streamed live on 29th April 2021 from 13h to 18:00h (Gulf Standard Time), @Merck Foundation Facebook page and Senator, Dr. Rasha Kelej Facebook page.

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