By Mohamed Lamin Massaquoi,Information Attaché
Sierra Leone’s First Lady, Fatima Maada Bio has joined colleague African First Ladies at the opening ceremony of the 9th Edition of the Merck Foundation Conference, where she presented key interventions undertaken by Sierra Leone to tackle sexual and gender-based violence.
Delivering her keynote address, the Sierra Leone First Lady said she was pleased to attend the Conference which sought to highlight and discuss issues affecting women and girls. She said that realizing the need to protect women, Her Office, in 2018 launched the “Hands Off Our Girls” Program, an initiative geared towards putting an end to rape, early marriage, teenage pregnancy and other forms of violations perpetuated against women and girls.
Madam Bio also spoke about the ongoing construction of a 500-bed hospital in Sierra Leone, undertaken by Her Office, to support healthcare delivery and to bolster the country’s healthcare infrastructure, adding that when completed, the facility would provide quality healthcare services to her people. Her Excellency used the gathering to thank the Merck Foundation for training 42 medical doctors from Sierra Leone in various areas of specialization and also paid tribute to healthcare workers across the African continent for their resilience, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Aside her interventions at national level, Dr. Fatima Maada Bio is also globally acclaimed as a champion for women’s empowerment. Recently, she led an advocacy at the United Nations for the adoption of a Special Day for African First Ladies to commemorate victims of sexual violence, which attracted huge endorsements from various stakeholders, notably the Catholic Church. The Resolution was unanimously adopted by the United Nations with the 18th November set aside annually to remember sexual violence victims. This landmark achievement has been applauded across the world.
Merck Foundation is the philanthropic arm of Merck KGaA, Germany that seeks to promote and improve health and wellbeing of people and advance their lives through science and technology.
Chief Executive Officer of Merck Foundation and President of “More than a Mother” campaign, Senator Dr. Rasha Keleji thanked the First Ladies for attending the first edition since the start of the pandemic. She noted notwithstanding the challenges posed by the pandemic, the Foundation continued its work in building capacity, raising awareness and delivering successes and improvements. The CEO also mentioned that the Conference provided an opportunity to showcase their achievements and assess impacts of their programs in different countries.
Chairman of Executive Board of E. Merck KG and Merck Foundation Board of Trustees, Prof. Dr: Frank Stangenberg-Haverkamp commended the First Ladies for their efforts in supporting the health sector in many ways, especially through boosting the capacities of healthcare workers in their respective countries.
“Good healthcare is a major driver of economic growth and social progress. We also want to thank your efforts in supporting girl-child education in your countries. We strongly believe that raising educated girls means stronger women, families and countries,” he said, while assuring that they would continue to support programs that build the capacity of underprivileged women and girls.
Other keynote speakers at the event included the First Ladies of Botswana, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, The Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Angola and Central Africa Republic.