Mrs Rebecca Akufo-Addo says Africa needs to prepare for future pandemics by building robust health systems among other things, since COVID-19 will not be the last.
She said COVID 19, had had an “unthinkable toll on our lives” and that it had been realised the world-over that the health systems were simply not ready for a pandemic of such magnitude.
“We all know this is by no means the last pandemic. There will be future pandemics and we have to be prepared, " Mrs Akufo Addo said.
She however, thanked African governments, healthcare workers, “and all those who continue to work hard to bring our world to normalcy.”
Mrs Akufo-Addo was speaking in a video Conference where she had joined her counterpart African first ladies on Tuesday
The 8th edition of Merck Foundation Africa Asia Luminary, was also addressed by her counterpart first ladies, as well as the Zambian President, Dr Edgar Changwa Lungu, as the special Guest of Honour.
The Luminary which also coincided with the Africa's First Ladies High Level Panel 2021, formed part of a three-day meeting expected to deliberate on strategies to build health care capacity and establish a strong platform of specialised trained medical experts and define interventions to break infertility stigma and support girl child education.
The meeting, used to mark the 4th Anniversary of Merck Foundation, would also discuss health care and social issues that could be addressed to contribute to the socio-economic development of Africa.
While congratulating Merck Foundation for its strategic partnerships with African First ladies, Mrs Akufo-Addo said she appreciated the collaboration with the Foundation to train healthcare professionals in Ghana and other African and Asian countries.
She said under the partnership, more than 60 healthcare providers in Ghana had received critical training in the fields of Cancer, Diabetes, Cardiology, Endocrinology, Respiratory and Acute Medicines, Sexual and Reproductive Medicines, Fertility and Embryology.
In direct response to the Corona Virus pandemic, Merck Foundation was also training some of the doctors in Respiratory and Acute Medicines, she stated.
“I am excited that, very soon our partnership with Merck Foundation, will cover areas such as Psychological Therapies, Orthopedic Trauma Science, Paediatric, Emergency Medicine and Advanced Surgical Practice.
“Additional areas to be covered are Dermatology, Neonatal Medicine, Pain Management, Psychiatry, Urology, Rheumatology, Internal Medicine and Pain Management”.
She said, together with Merck Foundation, the Rebecca Foundation also launched an inspiring storybook “Make The Right Choice. Stay at Home” and successfully implemented the Stay at home, Media Recognition Awards last year.
That, she said helped to raise awareness on how to stay physically and mentally healthy, during “these unsettling times. We look forward to the Mask up with care Media Recognition Awards, to continue to sentisize our communities”.
There was also another collaboration that aided in producing the TV programme “Because I want to be”, a mentoring programme, that encourage adolescent girls to stay in school”, adding that Merck Foundation had extended their support for that programme for another year.
The ‘Educating Linda’ programme under Merck’s sponsorship had also sponsored 20 high performing girls in their education.
Senator Dr Rasha Kelej, Chief Executive Officer of Merck Foundation, said as the philanthropic arm of Merck Germany, the Foundation had scheduled the annual conference, from 27th to 29th April in partnership with the Government of Zambia.
The virtual conference was therefore, being hosted and co-chaired by Mrs. Esther Lungu, Zambian First Lady and Dr. Kelej.
Dr Kelej, also the Chairperson of Merck Foundation Africa Asia Luminary, explained that the annual scientific and social education programme used to be held physically, had to be postponed last year, and held virtually this year due to the travelling restrictions of COVID-19.
She therefore, welcomed all the over 2,000 participants including the first ladies, health experts and researchers, academia and media professionals from over 70 countries.
“We will define interventions to break the stigma around infertility in general and infertile women in specific and to support girl education as Ambassadors of "Merck Foundation More Than a Mother" campaign, she told the African first ladies.
She said she was very proud to work together with the participants to realize “our vision of a world where ‘Everyone Can Lead a Healthy and Fulfilling Life.”
Professor Dr. Frank Stangenberg-Haverkamp, Chairman of Board of Trustees of Merck Foundation, emphasized the need for specialized health training and care in the face of such magnitude global pandemic that needed all hands on deck, and pledged the Foundation’s determination to partner the world to address its health needs, especially in the underserved communities.
This year’s meeting would engage healthcare providers, academia and media in an open dialogue and deliberations on various topics with the aim to improve access to quality and equitable healthcare solutions, she added.
The 2021 Luminary would also mark the announcement of two awards for media fraternity, dubbed the Merck Foundation Africa Media Recognition Awards “More Than a Mother” 2021 and Merck Foundation “Mask Up With Care” Media Recognition Awards 2021.
There would also be two other awards for the fashion fraternity, in addition to Merck Foundation Film Awards as well as Song Awards.
Among countries participating in the Luminary are Ghana, Angola, Bangladesh, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Canada, Central Africa Republic, Cambodia, , Côte d'Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, France, Gabon, and Germany.
Others are India, Indonesia, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Mexico, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam.