News Archive

The Earth Institute and Merck & Co., Inc./The Merck Company Foundation Collaborate To Strengthen Health Services In Rural Africa

2009-06-30

NEW YORK, June 22 -- With the financial support and collaboration of The Merck Company Foundation, the Earth Institute at Columbia University is launching an ambitious initiative to strengthen community health services for over 400,000 people in ten African countries under the Millennium Villages project.  The initiative will advance the development of a professional cadre of approximately 800 community health workers, filling a critical gap in primary health care provision for isolated and rural communities throughout the continent. 

“We are thrilled to be partnering with Merck on this critical initiative,” says Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute.  “Training a professional cadre of community health workers in rural Africa is one of the most immediate and effective ways to reduce needless deaths and help communities to escape from the poverty trap. With Merck’s support and collaboration we will be able to advance this program significantly and create tools that will be useful throughout the world.  Merck has a long history of pioneering leadership in the scale-up of disease control in low-income settings, so it is a special honor to partner with them on this new, important project.”

This new focus builds on existing efforts and applied research that have led the Earth Institute and its partners to rethink the function of Community Health Workers and identify ways of enhancing their effectiveness.  With targeted support from The Merck Company Foundation, the Millennium Villages project will extend its Community Health Worker training and reform program to all 14 village cluster sites, promoting a robust package of management skills, communications, leadership and innovative information and communication technologies.  

"Improving access to health care means more than making medicines and vaccines available," says Geralyn Ritter, Vice President, Global Public Policy and Corporate Responsibility at Merck & Co., Inc. "Important factors for long-term sustainability in health care provision also include strengthening health care infrastructure and helping to build local health care capacity through training and support. Merck is proud to collaborate with the Earth Institute on this important initiative to help increase access to basic health services for thousands of people living in sub-Saharan Africa."

Working in collaboration with the Ministries of Health in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda, the new initiative will ensure that the community health workers are skilled, well trained, properly remunerated, regularly supervised and fully integrated into their countries’ health care system.  These evidence-based approaches will serve as a demonstration to spur the expansion of the supported Community Health Worker approach to the national level.  As a result of these efforts, the communities and public health officials will be equipped with the tools necessary to achieve substantial improvements in the treatment and containment of malaria and other common diseases, improvements in nutrition, and overall reductions in childhood and maternal mortality.