Merck empowers African women cancer survivors
… Launches Merck-More-than-a-Patient Initiative
NAIROBI, Kenya, November 2, 2016: Merck, a leading science and technology company, today announced the kick off of “Merck More than a Patient,” a new initiative of “Merck Cancer Access Program” in Africa. The initiative which is in partnership with “Women for Cancer” aims to empower women cancer survivors in Africa by supporting them to establish their own small business so that they can lead an independent and productive life.
Merck will also help in raising awareness about Cancer prevention and early detection and tackling the myths and stigma associated with the disease with special focus on women.
“I am very happy that “Merck More than a Patient” has this positive impact on these women’s lives. Therefore, this initiative will be launched in other African countries in 2017. Through our collaboration with cancer patients associations and cancer institutions across Africa, we aim to help uplift women cancer survivors to reclaim their lives and become active contributors to the economy – and by doing so, they can now give back to the society through their new businesses.
“They will become more than cancer patients. In addition to our efforts to raise awareness about early detection and prevention specially addressing Cancer in Women” says Rasha Kelej, Chief Social Officer of Merck Healthcare.
Benda Kithaka and Co-Founder and Chairperson of”Women for Cancer” emphasized: “We are grateful to Merck for the continued support towards “Women 4 Cancer” survivors and our recent collaboration through the “Merck More than a Patient” initiative. The cancer patients are also appreciative that Merck is assisting them to make strides in gaining financial independence beyond their cancer survivorship.
“I am hoping we can together empower our communities to access accurate cancer information, which should result in behaviour change coupled with adoption of health seeking behaviour for quality cancer prevention and care”.
With “Merck More than a Patient” I am a survivor and victor, Rose Chiedo, cervical cancer survivor
Rose Atieno Chiedo, a 46 year old mother of one who lives in Nairobi, Kenya, is a cervical cancer survivor. Rose used to make and sell samosas before her cancer diagnosis and after her recovery she started to make jewellery in a small scale to cover some of her needs. “Merck More than a Patient” has helped Rose to expand her jewellery business enabling her to generate a better and steady income to meet her needs and re-build her life. Her story:
Rose used to complain of lower backaches and suffered from spotting. She went to Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi for further investigation where she found out that she had cervical cancer Stage 2B.
“When I was diagnosed with cancer in July 2013 the first thing that came to my mind was death,” Rose says as she narrates her painful journey. “Basically that is what anyone would think. People have a negative attitude towards cancer. The perception is that it cannot be treated.
“Some people think Cancer is as a result of a curse or witchcraft. The truth, Cancer is NOT caused by witchcraft. Although some cancers run in the family and others result from exposure to certain chemicals and infections, many cancers may be due to preventable behaviour and dietary risk factors.
Many think that once diagnosed with cancer, one can only expect death. The truth is Cancer is NOT a death sentence. One can have good quality of life after cancer diagnosis, they need to seek treatment early, follow medical advice and join a cancer support group. Paying attention to signs and symptoms increases the chance and benefits of early detection and treatment; including better recovery and more affordable treatment costs.
“I shared the news with my brother and he was shocked. He became very worried about my health and where the money to cater for my treatment would come from as we are orphans. There was no one who could help me other than him. It was a big blow to him because he knew the whole burden would be on him of which he actually took up.
“From the beginning to the end of my treatment it was just sad because I didn’t have money and I was depending on someone else for support. Before my illness, I used to sell samosas (a fried flour shell filled with minced meat or vegetables and spices) at that time at Ksh 5 per piece. So for 100 samosas I would get Ksh 500 (USD 5) in a day. But I was not able to manage the business as I would get weak and they are very heavy to carry and deliver for customers. So I stopped the business.”
Rose was able to get treatment (radiotherapy and chemotherapy) in March 2014 after waiting for eight months. In August of the same year there was a recurrence and Rose had to go for further treatment. Women4Cancer a charitable organisation in Kenya supported her to cover her treatment in 2015.
Speaking of her treatment Rose says: “The queues are so long at the hospital. It seems like one is fighting a losing battle. But I realized it was not a losing battle when I finished my treatment. And that is when I started fighting to survive.”
After recovery, Rose has been making jewellery but on a very small scale to sell and support herself and other needy women. Rose had a dream to expand the business and train other women to generate income so that they become productive members in society.
“Merck More than a Patient” has helped Rose to expand her jewellery business. Moreover, it has enrolled her in the Kenya Chamber of Commerce – Women in Business body, which will help her network with other entrepreneurial women, thus giving her a platform to generate even more business.
“What Merck has done is really going to help me to improve my business from small-scale to large-scale. I make my jewelry at home and sell it to my neighbors and friends. This business is something I can do at my convenience. I can carry the beads wherever I am going and I can sit anywhere and do my bead work,” Rose says with confidence and joy.
“I would really want to thank “Merck More than a Patient” and really appreciate them because this will help me to improve my life and will also enable me to use better quality materials because I can now be able to afford to buy them,” Rose adds.
I am not a patient anymore. I am a survivor and I am a victor! Rose concludes.
I am not sick anymore, Esther Muthike, a 75 year old widow and cervical cancer survivor
Esther Wakabari Muthike is a 75 year old widow from Kirinyaga in eastern Kenya and a cancer survivor. Her husband passed away 25 years ago. Before she fell ill, Esther was a farmer who also reared cows for milk. She had to sell her cow to cater for her cancer treatment expenses. “Merck More than a Patient” has helped Esther to get a cow from which she is able to get milk to sell to cover her needs. This has enabled Esther to get a steady income to become independent and re-build her life. Her story:
Esther found out that she had cervical cancer in May 2015 at a medical camp organised by Women4Cancer. She was referred to Kenyatta National Hospital for further investigations and treatment in July 2015. She started radiotherapy and chemotherapy in September 2015 and finished treatment in November 2015.
“When I was told I had cancer, I knew I would die even if I was being treated. The doctors told us that cancer is incurable,” Esther says.
“When people heard that I had cancer, they told me to sell all my property because the disease is incurable. People in the community avoided me because they thought I would infect them with cancer. It is only one of my daughters – Susan who stood by me. She is the only one who used to wash my clothes. I had a foul smell and so people avoided me. I could not even go to visit my neighbours either. I could only visit Susan my daughter.
“I used to be a small-scale farmer and I also had a cow that provided me and family with milk to sell some for an income. But I had to sell my cow when I fell ill with cancer. My daughter also sold her goats to help with the expenses,” Esther explains.
Esther also stopped farming for a while due to the health issues and treatment procedures. However, after treatment, she went back to farming and hoped for help to buy a cow that would enable her to generate a steady income from the sale of milk to cater for her needs.
Empowered and independent again
“Merck has really changed my life by giving me a cow. I now feel better. I now get milk to drink and sell. I have money in my hands from the sale of the milk. Previously I was not getting any money. I have named this cow Wambui because of its beauty.
“Before, I used to borrow milk from my neighbours. But now I am enjoying milk from Wambui. Since I got Wambui, I pray for Merck every day that they bless others the way they have blessed me. I am a victor, I am not sick anymore,” Esther says with a smile.
Merck has really uplifted me, I can now move on with my life – Margaret Njenga
Margaret Wanjiku Njenga is a cervical cancer survivor from Kiambu, Kenya. Margaret who is 47 years old is married with six children. She was diagnosed with cancer in August 2013 at a medical camp run by Women4Cancer. She was an active business woman who used to make and sell soap and disinfectants to schools. She also had a cow whose milk she used to sell. She could not continue with the business after she fell ill and she also had to sell her cow. “Merck More than a Patient” has helped Margaret to get a cow which is about to give birth. Margaret will be able to get a steady income from the sale of milk and be able to educate her children. Her story:
“My mother was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2010. My sisters and I were advised to go for regular cancer screenings as we could also get it as it could be in our genes. I was screened four times and the doctors kept saying they could see something. In each of these times I was given medication. I went for a fifth check-up and the results showed an anomaly. I was advised to go to the hospital and I was diagnosed with cancer.
“I went home and told my husband that I had cancer. Remembering how much pain my late mother had gone through and the amount of money she had spent on treatment and she still died, I told him it would be better to have my uterus removed so that I can raise my children. It didn’t mean that I would not die but I would have a few more years to live.
“I would lock myself in the house after my children had gone to school. I would think a lot and cry. I always saw myself dying. Who would take care of my children? I asked myself. My heart was very troubled.
“Before I became sick I used to make and sell home-made soap. I would go to schools to look for orders to supply them with the soap. I also started supplying the schools with toilet disinfectant. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I had to stop this job as it required walking long distances.
“A friend who also had her uterus removed loaned me Ksh 10,000 (USD 100) to book for treatment at the hospital. I also had a cow whose milk I used to sell. I had to sell my cow so that I could raise money for my treatment as I did not have the Ksh 30,000 (USD 300) required for the treatment all at once. I was also too stressed such that I could not work.”
When Margaret came from hospital she was unable to continue with her business and her family was struggling financially. Her children were sent away from school for lack of fees as the money was not enough as she still had to buy medicine.
Then “Merck More than a Patient” came to the rescue. It helped Margaret to buy a cow to enable her financially through selling milk.
“I am very happy because “Merck More than a Patient” has come to my aid and bought me a cow that will help me to continue raising my children. They have uplifted me and I am very happy and may God bless them,” Margaret says with joy.
“My cow has a few days before it gives birth. I might be lucky and get a heifer and I will have two cows. From this I will get more milk, have enough to drink and to sell and more money to educate my children. I can now move on with my life and with a grateful heart. We have named the cow Joy because of the joy it has brought back to this home. Merck has really uplifted me and now my life is moving on as I had hoped. I feel strong and able to continue with my life,” Margaret says with satisfaction.