© Merck More Than A Patient

Life beyond cancer for women survivors in Africa

8 March 2018
© Belén Garijo | Merck Group

Belén Garijo, CEO Healthcare
Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany

As we observe International Women’s Day, my thoughts turn to a particular group of women whose courage and spirit are exceptionally remarkable: those whose lives have been impacted by cancer. I want all of these women to know that we have a relentless drive to find novel treatment options for cancer fighters around the world.

We have made impressive strides over the years. Survival rates for breast, cervical, uterine and ovarian cancers have climbed dramatically in recent decades, along with those of most other types of cancer.

But surviving cancer is often the beginning of yet another struggle, because even in developed countries, it can be difficult to get one’s life back after a lengthy bout with a life-threatening disease.

In less-developed countries, where superstitions surrounding cancer abound and social safety nets are less generous, the challenge can be enormous. That was the motivation behind our “Merck More Than a Patient” initiative. This initiative in partnership with “Women for Cancer” seeks to empower female cancer survivors by helping them establish their own businesses and rebuild their lives.

Empowering women cancer survivors is an issue we’re passionate about globally. It’s a cause we’ve highlighted, through our collaboration with UICC, at both the 2016 World Cancer Congress in Paris and the 2017 World Cancer Leaders’ Summit in Mexico City.

This platform is amplified by partnerships at the local level, in this case together with cancer patient associations and cancer institutions across Africa, where we aim to help uplift women cancer survivors to reclaim their lives and become active contributors to the economy.

After Esther, from Kenya, defeated cervical cancer, she found she’d been left impoverished by the financial burden of the treatment. “Merck More Than a Patient” enabled Esther to buy a cow to replace the one she had sold, restoring her economic independence.

© Merck More Than A Patient
"More Than A Patient" - Esther from Kenya defeated cervical cancer.

Esther and many others like her are “More than a Patient.” They’re human beings who have overcome cancer against the odds, and we’re proud to stand with these strong women as they seek to return to a normal existence in a tough environment. But the initiative goes even further. We also support advocacy to raise awareness on cancer, working with governments, communities, schools and media to challenge perceptions about cancer and dispel damaging myths and misconceptions about cancer that lead some societies to stigmatise patients.

And just last month, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Organization of African First Ladies against HIV/AIDS with aims including the de-stigmatisation of infertility and cancer in women and the improvement of access to fertility and cancer care. As we continue to contribute to improving cancer survival rates, I hope one day initiatives like “Merck More than a Patient” won’t even be needed. In the meantime, the Esthers of this world can count on us.

Do the cancer survivors in your community have the support they need to move their lives forward?

This International Women's Day, please think about what you can do as caregivers, entrepreneurs, policymakers, doctors, employers, teachers or friends to help these women not just survive cancer, but JOIN, RISE, and THRIVE in your community.

About the author

Belén Garijo has been a Member of the Executive Board of Merck since January 2015. Since 2013, she has acted as President and CEO of the Biopharma business, where she started in 2011 as Chief Operating Officer. Originally a medical doctor, she worked as a practicing physician for six years before moving to the pharmaceutical industry.

Last update: 
Friday 7 June 2019